What is Piriformis Syndrome & How is it Treated?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: May 11, 2017

Spinal Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located in your buttock that can cause lower back pain if agitated or damaged. Luckily, there are a number of ways to treat and prevent piriformis muscle pain from setting in. Today, we explain how piriformis muscle issues are diagnosed, what symptoms they cause and how they are treated.

Causes and Symptoms of Piriformis Muscle Problems

As we mentioned above, your piriformis muscle is a small muscle located in your buttock. It begins at the lower spine and connects to the upper surface of each femur. Its function is to assist the hip in rotating and turning the leg and foot outward with each step. When injury occurs to the area, it is classified as piriformis syndrome.

The most common cause of piriformis syndrome is trauma to the muscle. Like any other area of our body, when the piriformis muscle is damaged, it has a natural response to trauma. However, these responses tend to inhibit normal muscle function, and since it plays such a vital role in your gait, walking or movement can be inhibited when the piriformis muscle is responding to trauma. Some common responses to trauma include muscle swelling, spasms, bleeding or tightening, all of which can disrupt muscle function.

Symptoms of dysfunction of the piriformis muscle include:

  • Back/buttock pain
  • Lumbar spine numbness
  • Tingling in the back of the leg
  • Shooting pain in the sciatica nerve
  • Tenderness of the butt
  • Increased pain while sitting or while walking up the stairs
  • Reduced range of motion in the hips

Diagnosing and Treating Piriformis Muscle Problems

Getting to the bottom of piriformis muscle pain isn’t always easy, because there’s no routine test to check for irritation. Instead, it takes a skilled specialist to listen to the patient’s symptoms, conduct a physical exam, observe the patient while walking and make an informed diagnosis. Although imaging tests may be ordered, they are usually performed with the intent of ruling out other potential issues, like a herniated disc or pinched nerve.

If you are diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, your doctor will walk you through a range of non-surgical options. Some of those treatment techniques include:

  • Rest
  • Ice and heat therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications and mild pain relieving medications
  • Physical therapy
  • A TENS unit for electrical stimulation

If those simple treatment techniques don’t work, a more hands-on approach may be necessary. This may be achieved through piriformis muscle injections. Using a simple corticosteroid or botox injection, the surgeon may be able to calm the muscle irritation or spasm while also decreasing localized pain. Decreasing pain in the area may also increase the effectiveness of physical therapy.

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