Many people suffer from lower back pain that spreads downward to the limbs and feet. This can often be alleviated by doing a deep piriformis stretch – a stretch that releases tight piriformis muscles, and relaxes the sciatic nerve.
Constriction of the piriformis muscle can irritate the sciatic nerve because they lay in close proximity to each other. By irritating the sciatic nerve, the result is pain (either in the lower back or thigh), numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot.
What Is The Piriformis?
The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It connects the spine to the top of the femur and allows incredible flexibility in the hip region (it’s the main muscle that allows for outward movement of the hip, upper leg and foot from the body).
The sciatic nerve passes underneath this muscle on its route to the posterior thigh. However, in some individuals, the sciatic nerve can actually pass right through the muscle, leading to sciatica symptoms caused by a condition known as piriformis syndrome.
Unfortunately, for a lot of individuals, their sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle, leaving them with pain that just won’t go away (as well as poor mobility and balance).
1. Supine Piriformis Stretch
1. Lie down with your knees bent upwards.
2. Cross your affected leg over the other leg, by bending it upwards toward your chest.
3. Grab your knee with one hand and the ankle with the other hand and pull slowly toward the shoulder which is in line with your ankle – until you feel a stretch through the glutes in the buttock.
4. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and release.
Note that you shouldn’t feel a pinch in the front of your thigh. If you do, you will need to stretch your hip flexors first.
If you don’t feel a stretch in the glutes, you cross your legs as in step 2 and pull the leg which is sitting on the floor by grabbing behind your thigh and pulling the leg toward your chest.
Here’s a video to demonstrate:
2. Standing Piriformis Stretch
1. If you have trouble balancing, stand with your back against a wall, and walk your feet forward 24 inches. Position your knees over your ankles, then lower your hips 45 degrees toward the floor.
2. Lift your right foot off the ground and place the outside of your right ankle on your left knee.
3. Lean forward and lower your chest toward your knees while keeping your back straight.
4. Stop when you feel the glute stretch.
5. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch legs and do the same.
If you have trouble balancing, you can stand with your back against a wall and distance your feet from the wall by 24 inches. Use the wall as support and follow the steps above.
3. Outer-hip piriformis stretch
Lie on the floor and bend upward the leg that is affected and place the foot close to the knee of the other leg. Tuck the foot behind the knee of the other foot. Twist the leg to the opposite side and face the knee to the ground. If you are stretching the left leg, you should place the right hand on the knee raising the other arm in the air. Slowly lower the other arm to the opposite direction of the knee and try to touch the shoulder on the floor. Hold for twenty seconds and switch sides. If you can’t touch the floor with the shoulder, don’t try to achieve that.
4. Long Adductor Stretch
1. Start off by sitting on the floor and stretch the legs as far apart from each other as you can. Remember, the moment you start feeling any pain or discomfort, stop! That means this is your limit and you shouldn’t try to exceed it by stretching your legs any further than they already are.
2. Proceed by gently tilting your torso towards the ground. Position your hands next to one another on the ground.
3. Lean forward slowly, trying to touch the ground with your elbows.
4. Hold this position for about 10 to 20 seconds and then release.
Note: In the case of you feeling any other leg pain, such as behind your knees, it is wise to do some other warm up leg stretches before giving this one a shot.
Here is a video to help you:
5. Short Adductor Stretch
1. This stretching exercise also requires you to be sitting on the ground. Simply position your feet’s soles in front of your pelvis.
2. Use your hands in an opposite manner to hold the ankles. This means your right hand should be holding your left ankle and the other way around.
3. Try and touch the ground with your knees by slowly and gently pushing them downward.
4. Hold this position for 30 seconds then release. Move your legs in a fluttering position (similar to a butterfly) for another 30 seconds.
Note: For an even deeper stretch, try using your elbows in order to push the knees downward, bending your torso and maintaining your back in a straight position.
Here is a video to help do it right:
6. Side Lying Clam Stretch
1. Lie down on your side. Your affected hip should be on top.
2. Proceed by bending your legs backward. This should look a bit like the letter L. Do this while keeping one of your feet over your other one. The legs should be parallel to one another.
3. Make sure your spine isn’t bent, and that the affected hip remains directly on top.
4. Raise your top knee in an upward position, making sure your feet remain together, and that your body stays in the original pose.
5. Now just slowly return your knee to its original position. Repeat this 15 times.
Here is a helpful video for you:
7. Hip extension exercise
First, you have to place the knees and hands on the ground and keep the hands in line with the shoulders. Just tilt the affected leg and bend the knee while you are raising the leg upwards toward the ceiling. Then, lower the leg, however, do not touch the floor. Repeat this 15 times.
8. Supine piriformis side stretch
With this stretch you have to start by lying on the ground and bending the knees upwards and just cross the affected leg over the other one. Bend the chest forward next and grab the knee with one of the hands. Also, grab the ankle with the other hand and pull to the shoulder in line with the ankle so that you can feel the stretch. Hold this for 30 seconds and release. If you feel a pinch, stretch the hip flexors first, and if you do not feel a pinch just pull the sitting leg, grab the thigh and pull the leg to the chest. That is it.
9. Mckenzie press up
Lie down on the ground with face downwards. Keep your elbows beside your chest. Raise your head up as much as possible, like a sea lion. Remain in position for 30 seconds and lower your head.
10. Seated Stretch
1. As its name states, you should sit on a chair for this one. Cross your affected leg over the knee of your other leg.
2. Bend forward slightly, making sure to also bring the chest forward. Make sure your spine is straight at all times.
3. Hold this position for a few moments. Then try and bend yourself a bit further. Once again, the most crucial thing is that you don’t feel pain while doing this.
4. Hold this position for a total of 30 seconds before releasing slowly. Then just repeat the whole process with your other leg as well.
This stretching exercise also has an accompanying video to make it easier for you:
11. Buttocks Stretch for the Piriformis Muscle
1. Laying with your stomach on the ground, place the affected foot across and underneath the trunk of the body so that the affected knee is on the outside.
2. Extend the non-affected leg straight back behind the body and keep the pelvis straight. 3. Keeping the affected leg in place, move your hips back toward the floor and lean forward on the forearms until a deep stretch it felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to starting position. Aim for a total of 3 stretches.
When you try these exercises at home, don’t over-do it and stop if at any point you feel as if you cannot take it. Stretching beyond limit could give rise to muscle sprain.