The piriformis muscle is a small muscle that runs from the spine’s base through the buttocks. It helps you rotate your leg outward, away from your body. Because the sciatic nerve tends to run close (or even through) the piriformis, if this muscle becomes tight, it can exert pressure on the nerve. This causes pain that radiates down the leg (sciatica pain) in a condition known as piriformis syndrome. This is most common in athletes who use their legs in repetitive motions, such as runners.
Piriformis syndrome commonly causes pain and tenderness in the buttocks, pain that can radiate down the leg to the hamstrings or calf muscles, but unlike a hamstring injury, the hamstring isn’t tender when touched. Finally, you may find that you have a decreased range of motion in your hip.
This condition is generally caused by tightness in the adductor muscles (which help bring your legs together), which means the muscles that move your leg apart must work differently, causing increased strain on the piriformis muscle.
If you think you have piriformis syndrome, rest and ice the affected area. Stretching the piriformis muscle can also help alleviate pain, but if you find that the discomfort persists, consult a sports medicine professional. He or she can make a definite diagnosis and may prescribe you specific stretching and strengthening activities. You may also undergo various testing, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) to rule out other causes of your pain. Ultrasound is sometimes used as part of physical therapy, and in particularly severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
To prevent piriformis syndrome from coming back, keep the piriformis and your hip rotator muscles flexible through stretching, and increase training gradually.