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Home > Stretches > Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis Stretch

piriformis muscle

Setup

  1. Lie on the ground face-up
  2. Lift your right leg (assuming you want to stretch your right piriformis) and externally rotate it away from midline
  3. Place the outside of your right ankle on top of your left knee

Execution

  1. Slowly bring your left knee (and, along with it, your right ankle) towards your chest
  2. If and when your left knee gets close enough to your chest, clasp your hands around your left hamstring muscle, just below your left knee
  3. Use your hands and your left hip flexors to pull your left knee and right ankle towards your chest even more  until you feel a firm stretch your right buttocks
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat for the opposite piriformis as desired, no more than piriformis stretches per side per day

Tips

  1. Keep your lower back flat on the ground; do not allow your butt to lift up at all or you're cheating.

piriformis stretch

Her right ankle is too far to the left, it should be resting on her left knee, but you get the idea.

Sitting Piriformis Stretch

Setup

  1. To prepare to perform this piriformis stretch, sit in a chair or a couch, preferably close to the edge of the seat
  2. Contract your lower back muscles such that you sit bolt upright
  3. Rest the outside of your right ankle on top of your left knee throughout the piriformis stretch
  4. Place your right palm on your right knee to steady it throughout the piriformis stretch

Execution

  1. Holding the contraction in your lower back such that your whole back is in one straight line, gently lean forward until you feel a firm piriformis stretch in the butt cheek of the non-planted leg
  2. Repeat this piriformis stretch for the opposite leg, no more than three 30-second repetitions per side per day

Tips

  1. Be careful not to allow your lower back to collapse/slouch during this piriformis stretch

The Pigeon Pose Piriformis Stretch

Setup

  1. Lie on the ground face-down
  2. Use your arms to push your chest up
  3. Bend your left hip, bringing you left knee up and underneath your chest
  4. Slide your left knee to the right
  5. Extend your left knee a bit, pushing your left ankle up and right
  6. Keep your right leg back behind you

Execution

  1. Lift your chest up
  2. Shift your pelvis forward
  3. You should feel a piriformis stretch deep in your left buttocks.  Breathe slowly and hold for 30-60 seconds.

Tips

This piriformis stretch is more intense than the above two piriformis stretches, so use with caution and ease into this piriformis stretch. This piriformis stretch uses your body weight to stretch the piriformis, unlike the first piriformis stretch but similar to the sitting piriformis stretch.  This piriformis stretch is actually similar to a pose practiced in yoga called the pigeon.

piriformis stretch

Background

What does the piriformis do?  The piriformis is a small muscle deep within your butt that is partially responsible for externally (laterally) rotating your femur.  In English, please.  Okay, for the visual learners in the audience, check out this video from the original Footloose and fast-forward to 1:30.  No, I’m not kidding.  Footloose is not a joking matter.



Okay, you see the dance move they’re doing where their toes are shifting in and then shifting out (1:36 in the video)?  The outward shifting motion of their toes is only possible because the piriformis and its fine feathered friends, the other muscles that externally rotate the thigh, are contracting to rotate the entire leg to the outside (and with it, the toes).

This first thing you should make note of is the fact that the above piriformis stretches also double as general butt stretches (i.e., gluteus stretches).  This is because the gluteus maximus is an external rotator of the leg and so is the piriformis, so any piriformis stretch will also stretch many other muscles in the buttocks.

Those interested in a piriformis stretch usually became interested because they were told by a doctor that they might have “piriformis syndrome.”  Without getting into too much detail, piriformis syndrome is, literally, a pain in the ass.  The means of diagnosing and indeed the very existence of piriformis syndrome is a subject of debate among experts.  Advocates postulate that sufferers experience pain because their piriformis is impinging upon their sciatic nerve because their piriformis is too tight.  A patient experiencing pain or discomfort in the back of their hip joint (i.e., their butt) is usually diagnosed as having either sciatica or piriformis syndrome (though they may have neither).  Performing a daily piriformis stretch is recommended for anyone believed to be suffering from piriformis syndrome, the theory being that semi-permanently loosening the piriformis muscle with a piriformis stretch will eliminate the pressure on the sciatic nerve and thus the pain in the ass.  Opponents argue that “piriformis syndrome” is a merely a mis-diagnosis of a range of musculoskeletal dysfunctions that can afflict the hip capsule and produce pain in the buttocks.

piriformis muscle

Regardless of which camp you’re in, performing a piriformis stretch can do no harm.  Also, most everyone who feels the need to perform a piriformis stretch could also benefit from massage of their piriformis.  Barring going to a professional massage therapist, a piriformis massage can be accomplished by sitting on a tennis ball and moving it around with your butt or via use of a Thera Cane, which I’ve found to be pretty handy.  I’ve found that foam rollers are poor self-massage tools when it comes to massaging the piriformis (or the buttocks in general) so I don’t recommend them in this scenario.  A warning to piriformis stretchers seeking to massage their butts: if you’ve never done it before, it’s quite painful at first.  In the words of one of my past physical therapists, “A lot of people hold tension in their ass.”

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Desk Jockey: What Sitting all Day is Doing to Your Back
  2. Hamstrings Stretch

Related E-Books

  1. 7 Seconds to Pain Relief
  2. Sciatica Self-Treatment

References

  1. Wallace, Mark & Staats, Peter, Pain Medicine and Management: Just the Facts, 334-35 (2004)
  2. Frontera et al., Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 287-89 (2008 ed.)
  3. Exercise for Sciatic Pain from Piriformis Syndrome, Ron S. Miller
  4. Sitting Piriformis Muscle Stretch, Lawrence Dieter
  5. Piriformis Stretches, Paul Boxcer

Last Updated: 7/3/2011
Originally Posted: 7/3/2011