One common cause of pain down the leg or leg pain is Piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is named after the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is located in the lower part of the spine (sacrum), connects to the thighbone (femur), and assists in hip rotation. The sciatic nerve runs beneath the piriformis muscle. This muscle is susceptible to injury from a slip and fall, hip arthritis, or a difference in leg length. Such situations can cause cramping and spasm to develop in the piriformis muscle, thereby pinching the sciatic nerve – causing inflammation and pain.
Muscle spasms and/or contraction of the piriformis muscle itself can lead to pain along the back of the thigh, down to the knee, causing a possible loss of sensation or numbness and tingling in the sole of the foot. The piriformis syndrome can often mimic the well known complaint known as sciatica. Because of the similar symptoms, it is often misdiagnosed as sciatica. The main difference between sciatica and piriformis syndrome is the cause. What both of these complaints have in common is that both can produce pain, and/or numbness and tingling below the knee and into the foot.
This has been the ‘special of the week’ in my practice. It can be left or right, depending on the activity that can irritate the area.
Who Does This Affect?
Many athletes are prone to piriformis syndrome. The athlete’s cause is primarily due to improper stretching and warm-up exercises as well as overuse during activity. In this case it is most likely that the piriformis muscle is irritated and usually in spasm.
People who spend long hours sitting are prone to this syndrome. It can be from sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, students, riding in a car or truck for long periods of time, and sitting on a wallet.
People who sit for extended periods of time, especially with poor posture are prone to the piriformis being irritated.
What Causes Piriformis Syndrome?
The primary cause is due to tightness and contracture of the piriformis muscle. In this case the piriformis muscle is shortened and does not allow for the smooth movement of the sciatic nerve during leg motion.
The causes of piriformis myospasm are varied such as overuse, excessive fast walking without proper warm up and stretching, prolonged sitting.
Treatment for Piriformis Syndrome
As for treatment of piriformis syndrome, many variables can hinder your successful recovery: including but not limited to smoking, obesity, job limitations and improper exercise (not warming up and stretching). It is very rare to have a piriformis syndrome from a one-off direct trauma to the area.
Any treatment plan must include stretching of the gluteal muscles as well as stretching of the piriformis muscles.
Chiropractors can assist you by recommending the proper exercises and stretches to perform. Many Chiropractors may also suggest some form of muscle therapy to the piriformis muscle in the gluteal region in order to assist in relaxing these muscles.
Relevant adjustments to the spine, pelvis, sacrum as well as hip may be required to relieve the pressure from the nerve being trapped from the piriformis muscle.