Well if that’s not a captivating title, I don’t know what is… It probably needs a comma in there somewhere too, but I’m feeling apunctuational about it. Which I believe is a word I just made up. To me, it means – it’s fine without the comma.
(OK I am about to out myself for some poor time management skills here, but maybe that will add extra motivation in the future…)
So “blog” (or “BLOG!”) is on my list nearly every day or week, and somehow it just doesn’t get done. I find blogging slightly intimidating. I want to create quality content and I am a recovering perfectionist, and that combination is the perfect storm for getting that task item pushed way down to the bottom of the to-do list. “It’s hard!” I say, to excuse myself. Today, a line from Amanda Palmer’s song Ukelele Anthem keeps running through my head, “Quit your b****ing on your blog; And stop pretending art is hard.” This is not exactly what’s going on here but I am making it applicable. Stop thinking and just start writing. Well that sounds easy! Let’s do that!
Who wants to talk about the piriformis?! It’s an important muscle to talk about because it can cause problems for so many people. And because of that, being able to release that muscle for my clients during their massage can have such a great impact on reducing their pain level and preventing other issues and injuries down the line.
Are you a runner? Do you drive a lot? Walk or stand a lot? Do you feel an ache in your hip joint, especially when you cross one leg over the other? Do you feel pain or tingling sensation down the back of your leg? Or maybe an ache in your hip or glutes that you can’t quite pinpoint where you’re feeling it or where it is coming from?
All of these sensations (called “sciatica”) can be indicators of a tight piriformis muscle.* The piriformis is one of a group of six muscles called deep lateral hip rotators. This means that we are using our piriformis when we turn our hip or leg out to the side. As you can imagine, this muscle gets a lot of use and can get very tight. In some people the sciatic nerve runs through the muscle itself. In some folks it lies between the muscle and the bone of the pelvis. In either case, when the muscle gets tight, it can irritate the nerve a little bit, offering up those great sensations we talked about earlier. This is called “piriformis syndrome”.
Sometimes, the piriformis can be tight and we don’t know it. This presents a problem as well, because it can start a domino effect of issues with other muscles. For example, when the piriformis is tight, the hip/leg will be constantly held in a position where the hip is slightly rotated all the time. This could cause compensating tension and imbalance in the leg muscles all the way down to the foot. There will be an increased possibility of knee problems or injury, or plantar fasciitis. The piriformis is tight on probably at least 50% of the clients I work on, even if they sometimes don’t know it until I start working on that area.
Don’t worry though! Many people can find relief from their symptoms or a tight piriformis that isn’t yet causing symptoms or issues, by receiving massage, and in between sessions by doing self care at home in the form of stretching and self-massage.
A simple stretch to do is to have a seat with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor. Place one ankle on the opposite knee. Keeping your back straight, and without hunching or slumping over, gently hinge at the hips You will feel the stretch in your hip/glute area. Hold for 20-45 seconds, and then do the same for the other side.
To massage the area at home, you can use a tennis ball, or a lacrosse ball depending on how tense the muscle is. The tennis ball might be better to start, as it has a little give, and the lacrosse ball may be a little too unforgiving (read: painful) for a very tight piriformis. Sitting on the floor, lean to the right and place the ball just under the side of the left glute. Slowly rest your full weight onto the ball, moving around slowly until you hit the right spot. Believe me, you’ll know it when you hit it! Once you have found the spot, apply steady pressure at a level of “hurts so good”, until the muscle relaxes. If it is taking longer than a minute, release the pressure for a minute, and then reapply. Don’t forget the other side!
Let me know how this works for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, in the comments or you can always email me at sarapeutic at gmail dot com.
*It is important to note that as a massage therapist, I do not diagnose. It is also important to note that sciatica could also be caused by a pinching/compression of the nerve at the spine due to a disc problem, stenosis, or other issue. It is always a good idea and my recommendation that you see your doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.