Published On: Thu, Jan 10th, 2019

Stretch and Massage for the Piriformis: Simple Ways to Relieve Your Lower Back Pain

The piriformis is a muscle you don’t hear talked about much in fitness circles. It certainly doesn’t get as much attention or work as those glamor muscles like the glutes, hamstrings and abs, but it is actually one of the most important muscles to know about if you suffer from lower back pain, including sciatica. Just be sure that in the event someone caused your injury and pain, contact a service like noll-law.com/il/springfield-personal-injury-lawyer/ in order to follow the legal aspects of injury claims.

photo/ Wolfgang Claussen via pixabay

The piriformis, whose name literally means ‘pear shaped’, is a band of muscle in the lower back, and the all-important sciatic nerve which runs all the way from the spine down through the legs and to the feet emerges out of it, in some cases actually running through the muscle. When we talk about strengthening, stretching and balancing the ‘core’, the piriformis is certainly one of the muscles under discussion – it has an important role in postural alignment – but the first time most people pay it any real attention is when they start to experience issues as a result of tightness or inflammation in the muscle.

The piriformis, when it is tight or too short, can compress or irritate the sciatic nerve, leading to the symptomatic pain known as sciatica. Sciatica can range from a burning pain in the lower back through to numbness or pain throughout one leg, even in some cases causing pain in the foot. Sciatica can have a lot of different causes including a herniated disc, injury or trauma, but in many younger people with no history of lower body injury, the most likely cause is ‘piriformis syndrome’ – that is, aggravation of this crucial nerve by the piriformis muscle.

The piriformis can also cause pain by itself if it is tense and tight, or you may experience muscular pain in the glutes, hamstrings or calf muscles.

Taking Care of Your Piriformis

As with any issues caused by muscle tightness, the best approaches to relieving piriformis related pain are stretching the muscle, and massaging the tissue. You can, of course, seek professional help to massage the affected areas, but if you don’t have the time or money for that or simply need some instant relief right away, it is also thankfully possible to auto-massage in a way that will help fairly easily and effectively.


To stretch the piriformis, any kind of stretch that brings your foot across in front of you to the other side of your body will help. A simple stretch is to place one ankle on the other knee while seated in a chair, and then gently pull that ankle up towards your chest. There are variations of this kind of stretch that can be done lying down or standing which are equally effective. The traditional yoga pose known as the pigeon is also a very good stretch for the piriformis.

You should progress your stretch until you feel the piriformis stretching, and should then hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Experts recommend stretching at least three times a day if you are experiencing piriformis related pain. Additionally, while in most cases sciatica affects only one side of the body, you should always stretch on both sides to promote good body alignment.

Self Massage

The best way to tackle massaging the piriformis yourself at home is by using a tennis ball. Place the ball under your lower back, and move slowly while putting pressure on the ball, going out towards the hip. Where you find tender, painful areas, keep them on the ball and make small movements against the ball to massage the muscles. You will probably find that you need to do this on parts of your glutes as well to help relieve the pain. The process will take some time, but can be very effective.

Many people also find that massaging trigger points in the soleus – that is one of the calf muscles – can also help with piriformis pain. This can similarly be done with a tennis ball, as while you can reach to do it with a hand, this can often be a very tense area that requires firm pressure. Soleus massage can be particularly helpful if you spend a lot of time seated, as this tends to cause tighteness in the calf that can trigger piriformis pain.


As well as stretching and massaging to help alleviate existing pain, you can prevent piriformis problems by taking care to keep you posture correct, and to avoid spending too much time seated at once. If you sit down to work, make sure you do some stretches throughout the day at regular intervals, and get good quality exercise in in your free time.

Take good care of your piriformis to alleviate or avoid low back pain!

Author: Andrew Simmons

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