Could that mystery pain be piriformis syndrome?

Does sitting in certain positions set off pain and numbness in your buttocks? You might think it’s just that your muscles are tired, but it could be something far more serious.

It’s normal to feel some muscle soreness after sitting in the same position for a long time, but for some people it takes just a few minutes to bring on agony.

Piriformis syndrome is a painful neuromuscular condition caused when the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. It is uncommon, but sufferers experience debilitating symptoms that can dramatically affect quality of life.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest single nerve in the body, and runs from the base of your spine through your hips and down each of your legs.

Read: A leading pain expert explains trapped nerves

The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle that forms part of your buttocks near the top of the hip joint. It’s an important muscle for your lower body movement as it stabilises the hip joint and lifts and rotates the thigh away from the body. This enables us to walk, shift our weight from one foot to another, and maintain balance.

Piriformis syndrome is a form of sciatica, or a compression of the sciatic nerve. The typical early warning signs are pain, tingling and/or numbness in the buttocks. The pain can be severe and often extends the entire length of the nerve.

The pain is usually triggered by sitting in the one position for too long, or while performing activities that apply direct pressure to your piriformis such as running or climbing stairs.

It can be hard to differentiate piriformis syndrome from other forms of sciatica, which can be caused by numerous things including a herniated disk, bone spurs on the spine or a narrowing of the spine.

Read: Why is low back pain such a pain? How can you fix it?

If you suspect piriformis syndrome, a doctor will need to confirm the diagnosis with a physical exam, usually by trying to replicate the pain by stimulating the muscle. Because the symptoms can be so similar to other conditions, tests such as an MRI may be required to rule out other causes of sciatic nerve compression, such as a herniated disc.

It can also be hard for your GP to pinpoint exactly why your piriformis muscle is behaving this way. It’s thought that the condition is caused by sports or movement that repeatedly stresses the muscle, such as running or lunging. Make sure to warm up before exercise and avoid running on hills or uneven surfaces as much as possible.

If you do receive confirmation that it is piriformis syndrome, thankfully there are a number of treatment options apart from avoiding the use of the muscle.

Physical therapy can be used to treat mild cases with a set of exercises and stretches to help reduce sciatic nerve compression. Osteopathic manipulation can also be used to treat cases at the milder end of the scale.

Read: How do different painkillers work?

For more severe cases drugs may be necessary. Anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants and anaesthetic have all be used to treat piriformis syndrome.

Some doctors have even used botox as a treatment. It is thought to relieve muscle tightness and reduce the compression on the sciatic nerve.

If you’ve noticed strong and consistent pain in your lower back or either of your legs, speak to your GP to make sure it’s not piriformis syndrome.

Have you experienced sharp pains in your lower back or legs? Had you heard of piriformis syndrome? Let us know in the comments section below.

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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