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Piriformis Syndrome

About 60% of adult Americans will experience back pain sometime this year. It wouldn’t be a stretch (no pun intended) to say that some of them will be runners. Indeed, some of the characteristics and training of runners make them predisposed to back pain, especially a condition known as piriformis syndrome.

Basically, piriformis syndrome is a deep, nagging pain in one buttock which may radiate to the back of the thigh that is worse with sitting and better with walking. Most of the time, it does not go past the knee. It can be confused with hamstring tendinitis as well as a disc problem of the low back. It is usually caused by tightness in the piriformis muscle, which then irritates the sciatic nerve. Contributing factors may include tight inner thigh muscles as well as weakened outer thigh/hip muscles.

Figure 4 stretch, as shown by Jen, the Peanut Butter Runner

Prevention of piriformis syndrome is as easy as core strengthening, comprehensive stretching and cross training. One of my favorite stretches is the “Figure 4″, and it can be done sitting, lying or standing – almost anywhere. Simply place the ankle of one leg over the opposite knee, so that as you look at your legs, it looks like the top of a number 4. Perform for 30 seconds, with 3 repetitions on each side. If this causes tingling because you have an acute case, you might need to lay off of it (and all offending activities) for a few days and try stretching again then.

Working your abs on a Swiss ball or cross training with some Pilates is also a good way to avoid the problem in the first place. Runners should always cross train – muscle confusion is good!

Notice a theme in these articles? Prevention is best – and keeps you training for your goals!

Written by

Laura Alexander O’Connor, MPT, has been a physical therapist since 2003. A St. Louis native, born and raised, she has worked in outpatient orthopedic clinics with a variety of patients, including many runners. She presented at the 2004 National Athletic Trainers Association National Convention, was published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2005, and has participated in clinical research at both Washington University and Saint Louis University.

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One Response to "Piriformis Syndrome"

  1. […] Peanut Butter Runner was featured demonstrating the figure four stretch in an article on Piriformis Syndrome on Digital Running. […]

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