How To Get A Deep Piriformis Stretch To Get Rid of Sciatica, Hip & Lower Back Pain

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Many people suffer from lower back pain that spreads downward to the limbs and feet. This can often be alleviated by doing a deep piriformis stretch – a stretch that releases tight piriformis muscles, and relaxes the sciatic nerve.

Constriction of the piriformis muscle can irritate the sciatic nerve because they lay in close proximity to each other. By irritating the sciatic nerve, the result is pain (either in the lower back or thigh), numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot.

What Is The Piriformis?

The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It connects the spine to the top of the femur and allows incredible flexibility in the hip region (it’s the main muscle that allows for outward movement of the hip, upper leg and foot from the body).

The sciatic nerve passes underneath this muscle on its route to the posterior thigh. However, in some individuals, the sciatic nerve can actually pass right through the muscle, leading to sciatica symptoms caused by a condition known as piriformis syndrome.

Unfortunately, for a lot of individuals, their sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle, leaving them with pain that just won’t go away (as well as poor mobility and balance).

Causes of Piriformis Syndrome

The exact causes of piriformis syndrome are unknown. The truth is, is that many medical professionals can’t determine a cause, so they cannot really diagnose it. Even with modern imaging techniques, the piriformis is difficult to identify.

Lower back pain caused by an impinged piriformis muscle accounts for 6-8% of those experiencing back pain (1).

Suspected causes of piriformis syndrome include (2):

– Tightening of the muscle, in response to injury or spasm – Swelling of the piriformis muscle, due to injury or spasm – Irritation in the piriformis muscle itself – Irritation of a nearby structure such as the sacroiliac joint or hip – Bleeding in the area of the piriformis muscle

Any one of the above can affect the piriformis muscle, as well as the adjacent sciatic nerve.

Also, a misaligned or inflamed piriformis can cause difficult and pain while sitting and when changing positions (from sitting to standing). I actually stretched too far in a yoga pose once, and irritated my piriformis muscle – this took about 1-2 years to fully heal. I had major pain while sitting, and when changing positions from sitting to standing. I remember it being a huge pain in the butt (pardon the bun), but I just stuck with stretching and trigger point release and eventually it went away.

10 Deep Piriformis Stretches

These piriformis stretches are great for alleviating pain and a triggered sciatic nerve.

It is important to note, too, that over-stretching can actually make the condition worse. Light, gentle stretching is best. “No pain, no gain” does NOT apply here. I over-stretched my piriformis and that’s what made it inflamed for 1-2 years (because I was still doing yoga daily, and over-doing it in stretches).

Make sure you warm up your muscles before you stretch, because you can create a different injury. To warm up, simply walk or march in place or climb up and down a flight of stairs slowly for a few minutes before stretching.

Exercising and stretching the piriformis is well worth it – try it now with these 10 stretches:

1. Supine Piriformis Stretch

1. Lie on your back with your legs flat.
2. Pull the affected leg toward the chest, holding the knee with the hand on the same side of the body and grabbing the ankle with the other hand.
3. Pull the knee towards the opposite shoulder until stretch is felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.

There are many variations of this stretch, but here is a good video to demonstrate:

2. Standing Piriformis Stretch

1. If you have trouble balancing, stand with your back against a wall, and walk your feet forward 24 inches. Position your knees over your ankles, then lower your hips 45 degrees toward the floor.
2. Lift your right foot off the ground and place the outside of your right ankle on your left knee.
3. Lean forward and lower your chest toward your knees while keeping your back straight. 4. Stop when you feel the glute stretch. 5. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then switch legs and do the same.

3. Outer Hip Piriformis Stretch

1. Lie on your back and bend the right knee.
2. Use the left hand to pull the knee over to the left side. Keep your back on the ground, and as you do so, you should feel the stretch in the hip and buttocks.
3. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

4. Long Adductor (Groin) Stretch

1. Sitting on the floor, stretch your legs straight out, as far apart as you can.
2. Tilt your upper body slightly forward at the hips and place your hands next to each other on the floor.
3. Lean forward and drop your elbows to the floor if you can. You will feel the pelvis stretching.
4. Hold for 10-20 seconds, and release.

5. Short Adductor (Inner Thigh) Stretch

1. For this exercise, sit on the floor and put the soles of your feet together.
2. Use your elbows to apply downward pressure to your knees to increase the stretch.
3. You should feel the stretch on the inner thighs. For a deeper stretch, bend your upper torso forward with a straight back.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, release, and flutter your legs in the same position for 30 seconds.

6. Side Lying Clam Exercise

1. Lay on your side with the hip that needs help on top.
2. Bend your knees and position them forward so that your feet are in line with your spine. 3. Make sure your top hip is directly on top of the other and your back is straight.
4. Keeping your ankles together, raise the top knee away from the bottom one. Do not move your back or tilt your pelvis while doing so, otherwise the movement is not coming from your hip.
5. Slowly return the knee to the starting position. Repeat 15 times.

7. Hip Extension Exercise

1. Position yourself on all fours with your shoulders directly over your hands. Shift your weight a little off the leg to be worked.
2. Keeping the knee bent, raise the knee off the floor so that the sole of the foot moves towards the ceiling.
3. Slowly lower the leg, almost back to the starting position and repeat 15 times.

8. Supine Piriformis Side Stretch

1. Lie on the floor with the legs flat, and raise the affected leg by placing that foot on the floor outside the opposite knee.
2. Pull the knee of the bent leg directly across the midline of the body using the opposite hand or towel until a stretch is felt. Do not force anything and be gentle.
3. Hold the piriformis stretch for 30 seconds, then return to starting position and switch legs.
4. Aim for a total of 3 repetitions.

9. Buttocks Stretch for the Piriformis Muscle

1. Laying with your stomach on the ground, place the affected foot across and underneath the trunk of the body so that the affected knee is on the outside.
2. Extend the non-affected leg straight back behind the body and keep the pelvis straight. 3. Keeping the affected leg in place, move your hips back toward the floor and lean forward on the forearms until a deep stretch it felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to starting position. Aim for a total of 3 stretches.

10. Seated Stretch

1. In seated position, cross your right leg over your left knee.
2. Bend slightly forward, making sure to keep your back straight.
3. Hold for 3-60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Trigger Points and The Piriformis Muscle

There are many other natural and highly effective remedies for sciatic nerve pain. Trigger point therapy is one of them, and truly one of the best.

According to Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, written by doctors Janet Travell and David Simons, myofascial trigger points (tiny knot contractions) in overworked gluteus minimus and piriformis muscles in the buttocks are the main cause of sciatica and all the symptoms that come with it.

Picking up a copy of the book, or even following instruction in the video below can help release these knot contractions.

     
Carly Fraser has her BSc (Hons.) Degree in Neuroscience, and is the owner and founder at Live Love Fruit. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a determined life mission to help inspire and motivate individuals to critically think about what they put in their bodies and to find balance through nutrition and lifestyle. She has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals to re-connect with their bodies and learn self-love through proper eating habits and natural living. She loves to do yoga, dance, and immerse herself in nature.

82 COMMENTS

  1. I have spinal stenosis and the pain from that is very similar to the pain mentioned in this article. I have been doing some of these stretches for years now and they really do work!

  2. I've had severe pain in my hip and have a hard time on hard surfaces. I've been seeing a chiropractor for nearly 30 years and the 4 years my hip suddenly got very weak and unstable. I found a new chiro who does muscle work (trigger point and myofascile release) before the adjustment and what a difference it has made. I'm no longer afraid to take a shower, leave home and I'm not constantly worried about falling. Both chiropractors had suggested the first and last stretches and they've helped a lot as well. I'm not out of the danger zone yet and still can't go more than 2 weeks without a visit to a chiropractor but I've definitely seen a huge difference. I'll give the other stretches a try as well. Thanks for a thorough post. I really appreciate it.

  3. I have used these stretches in physical therapy. They are awkward and painful at first; however, once used to them, they work great. Sending to myself to start again!!!

  4. Thanks for
    sharing. I have had this for 4 years and tried everything including shots, water exercises regular therapy and nothing helps. Will try all of these and hope for the best.

    • I have severe neck issues that run into the shoulders. Turned out to be facet syndrome in my cervical spine c3-c6 and kept me on the couch in pain and could not do anything. Migraines were debilitating till I had a stimulator implant, like a pacemaker for pain. Leads touch all these areas bilaterally and woke up a new woman.

  5. Hi. I have been to the chiropractor. He sent me to therapy, didn't help. I have a pulled ham sting in the right leg. Next move is an MRI. This has been going on since November. Have not tried these exercises but, I am going to give it a try.

  6. I do most of these on a regular basis . I also use a strap on some of them to give me a little extra stretch.
    I will definitely be adding some to my routine. 1st time I've seen the tennis ball one.Ready to try the new ones. I still have some pain but it is not as severe after stretching . 1st thing when I get up last thing before getting ready for bed.

  7. For everyone with hip pain- – I suffered off and on for years. This device has kept me pain free for the past year since I got it. Fasciablaster. Google it.

  8. I have had a hip replacement (ceramic on metal) – is it safe for me to do any of these stretches? Last thing I need is to pop the hip out of the socket! It has been almost 4 years since the hip replacement.

    • I think it is okay as long as you are very gentle and careful with the stretches. Maybe ask your doctor beforehand. Or go to a physiotherapist and ask about the stretches with your condition.

  9. Thank you for sharing Carly.
    I experience this pain in my back and hips. I just did the stretchs and it felt good! How often should I do them ?

  10. Using a tennis ball and placing it under you on those pressure points tsp does amazing work as well. Highly recommend using the tennis ball technique, stretches and massage all combined is excellent therapy

  11. Carly,
    Do you recommend using an inversion table? I've got one and found it relieves spinal stenosis but does strain lower back muscles. Guess that one should do some of these exercises along with using the inversion table.
    Royce Jordan Atlanta Ga.

  12. You need to look at the instructions on this page. In the first stretch, step 3 reads, "Pull the knee towards the opposite ankle until stretch is felt." Opposite ankle? I was confused by this, until I watched the video where the woman demonstrating says "the opposite shoulder". Just sayin'…

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am a teacher and have been xperiencing some major issues the past two weeks. Standing has been really painful, but so has sitting. I had a deep tissue massage that released some of the muscles, but I can't afford to keep going every three or four days. These exercises and the fact that they were shared on FB will be a Godsend. I'm going to order the massage stick. I am grateful.

  14. I have seen four doctors here in Vancouver BC including VGH & not one could diagnose my problem… Through 'trial & error' I pin-pointed where the roots of my problem was & how to cure it… I had excruciating pain for three months… felt on many occasion very sick because of all that pain… Hot water heavy jets & acupunture plus taking L- Glutamine (Natural muscle relaxant), did the trick… I am now totally without pain.

      • L-Glutamine is an incredible nutrient!
        I've taken it for years and have had NO muscle pain, for instance, after heavy work-outs. SWANSON makes a great powder at a reasonable price. Its kind of sweet and I put one scoop (comes with it) in my morning smoothy.
        ALSO for proper muscle function, don't forget MAGNESIUM…remember, the heart is a muscle! There are many Mgs out there, (bypass Mg Oxide = the cheapest, but also least absorbed); for me the "Mg Orotate" works best!

  15. Hi, as a Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist, I thank you for getting the word out about this very common condition that is very often missed my doctors and not treated properly by many PTs. It does not look like you are aware that you are using the name of a medical text and linking it to a self care book. That should be corrected. The Trigger point therapy workbook is fantastic and people should buy it, but you are calling it "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, written by doctors Janet Travell and David Simons," which was the medical text written by doctors. The book you refer to was NOT written by doctors, although David Simons wrote the forward. There is the NAMTPT that is a association that promotes Trigger point therapists http://www.myofascialtherapy.org/. There is a directory and information there.

    So many people suffer with the referred pain caused by trigger points because too few medical practionioners are aware of the CAUSE of their pain. I see it EVERY DAY! thank you!

    • Mary Jo I'm glad you pointed that out about the book and the authors. I was thinking the same exact thing. it is very misleading and one could purchase that book thinking it was from the authors Travell and Simons that were listed. it is not. Also Mary Jo thank you for posting about the myofascial release therapist association..i had gone to one years ago and she helped me tremendously she was knowledgeable and frequently referred to the medical book by Travell and Simon

  16. After 12 years of this I stopped wearing a belt with my slacks and I've never had a problem since. Been a few years. Injury originally triggered by standing for hours in those uncomfortable nonslip work shoes some companies make you buy.. I'll never underestimate the importance of proper footwear again.

  17. Do yourself a favor and do a (correct) regimen of stretches for your entire body. I'm 74, and exercise is great…..but my stretching exercises do more to keep the pain away……..especially those aimed at the back.

  18. I have been a professional athlete and still train. The last year I started noticing the numbness in the leg and hip, the inability to run because it would tighten up and numb my legs, glutes all the way down to my feet. I haven't given up on my ability to run miles again. I have recently started at a chiropractor and it has helped for the pain. There is still some discomfort. I use many of these stretches just to get relief when my sciatica starts to become inflamed. But this article no doubt helps and I will be sharing it with my fans and friends on all of social media. Great article and thank you!

  19. My wife had 12 years of sciatica, not diagnosed as piriformis-based until the last 2-3 years. Lots of attempts to alleviate, including stretches. In her case (I know it's rare) she had to have piriformis release surgery. Took a LONG time to find a doc to do it, but relief was total and immediate. She had become so debilitated over the dozen years, that lots of other deconditioning downsides have plagued her since. But by golly, the sciatica is gone.

    • Hi Mike, I have suffered with sciatica for too many years. I had surgery last year to partly remove a disc in my lower back but I am still suffering with th same sciatic pain. Consultant and PT believe that the problem is stemming from the piriformis muscle. Would you mind telling me where your wife had the piriformis release surgery? Many thanks Sue

    • Hi Sue — yes, in my wife's case, she went thru many years of steroid injections for a lower disk which was A problem but, turns out, was not THE problem. The doctor who did the piriformis release surgery was James Yue, at Yale Orthopedics in New Haven, CT. Hospital was Yale/NewHaven. Excellent doc. All the best to you … Mike

  20. I just finished a round of Physical Therapy for sciatica plus scoliosis. Therapy has not helped my sciatica,but they did do exercises for scoliosis. My thinking is that my sciatica will not get better
    because scoliosis is pushing everything toward it. What do you think, Carly?

  21. I was a gymnast in high school and we always did stretches. I have had back and neck issues(from getting rear-ended by a drunk driver and from lifting as I am a nurse). I was seeing a chiropractor at least 2 times a week for a very long time without a whole lot of different and sometimes I even think he made things worse. Then I decided to do stretches again and I haven't had the chiropractor for years! Stretches really made the difference!

  22. I have completed physical therapy for sciatica pain and uncomfortable feeling in my side due to scoliosis. I would say it is mild to moderate. Could the scoliosis be pushing on sciatica because I did not get any relief from therapy. Thank you.

    • It takes time. Just stick with them. I too have the same problems as you. A few of these are ones recommended for scoliosis. Another good one is: lay on your stomach on the floor with your arms straight above your head. Lift your upper body off the floor, hold for 10 secs. and release and repeat. The pain didn't start overnight, it won't be fixed overnight. Arnica is wonderful!

  23. Thirty years ago I had a pain as described. I thought it was from wearing a heavy tool-belt and climbing ladders. I just started getting back into weight-training, and I feel a touch of it coming back. I will do these stretches. Thanks.

  24. I have severe hip pain due to an injury I got while riding a mechanic bull and these exercises definitely work! I still have pain from time to time but nothing compared to before. Thanks for sharing this article!

  25. I have arthritis of the spine. It is pressing on a nerve & gives me pain down my right thigh to the knee. will these exercises help or harm my condition ?

    • With some you may be able to use a yoga strap or even a long piece of fabric like a towel, scarf, pantyhose, or pillowcase for a body pillow; for example I can't pull my knee to my chest, "grab" my ankle or foot, or put my ankle on my opposite thigh very easily, but a strap helps me get into position. Hold the stretch longer if you're comfortable, 2 or 3 minutes instead of 10-20 seconds. I hold some gentle stretches for 10-15 minutes! If you can't go all the way, stretch just a little and use pillows to hold that position; gravity and your own body weight will slowly and gently deepen the stretch. For example, the #3 stretch: cross your knee over your body, then put a pillow under it instead of trying to touch it the floor. #10: if you can't get your ankle all the way up on your thigh, lie on your back and cross your ankle over your other leg below the knee, on your shin, then pull it up slowly; hold it where you feel a stretch; put a pillow under your knee if necessary; pull your ankle up an inch (if you can) and hold it again. You will make more progress "barely" stretching but holding it for a long time than struggling with a difficult position. From one chubby person to another 🙂

  26. I am a sufferer of chronic lower spinal pain as well as neck pain since '93 due to on the job injury. However, my injury cannot be relieved doing stretches such as this. My injury is due to 4 herniated disks and pinched nerves that I have suffered with that nobody caught in time and now has escalated to permanent nerve damage. I have lost all feeling on the right side of my body, have to walk with a cane, and it will only get worse. I have had 5 spinal surgeries in an attempt to help relieve the pain, the last to put in a dorsal stimulator. Yes, this exercise may, and can help many people if the issue is caught soon enought. But people must also know, if the issue persists, please…see your DR, for this may be a sign of something serious.

  27. I have taken 10 treatments and have done all of these and so far nothing has happened.Still in a lot. Of pain.zHave done dry needle also utthe pain is still there. Jack. Compton

    • Jack Compton: So sorry that you are still in so much pain. 😕 Keep researching and maybe try working with a myofascial therapist (they work with trigger points and more and a link to their association is listed above in the comment by Mary Jo Smiley.)
      As Carly says to many folks in this comment thread, do the exercises slowly. Don't give up! Chronic pain is awful, but I believe that you can feel better with the correct therapies. Best wishes to you.

  28. I had Sciatica pain on and off for three or four years. I went to physical therapist and chiropractor with no relief. My wife found the similar exercises on internet and within hours the pain was gone. I have not had any pain since.

  29. this is fine but i have spine trouble as well will this damage the spine more i got o/r in hands shoulds and spine

  30. After Ovarian cancer surgery, my doctor at Fairview Hosp. in Minneapolis/St. Paul, my surgeon recommended L-Glutamine, vits B and D and Calcium (prob with magnesium) I don't have the "prescription" anymore.

  31. I've had lower back problems for years and just chalked it up to wear and tear. I was curious when I saw this article on FB and thought I'd give it a shot. I've only been doing the stretching exercises for 2 days and the improvement is immediate. Incredible! Thanks you so much for this.

  32. I suffer from sciatica, stenosis, L-4-L5 issues, etc. I do daily stretches to work my core. Mainly on my back, extending my legs upwards to stretch, clam shell for core, etc. I started getting tight back of left leg (sciatica was always on right before) so stretching with band and tried the supping piriformis stretch. My entire piriformis is irritated. I would like to try your suggested exercises but do I just try one at a time and add another in time? Sleeping and sitting on left side is not pleasant.

  33. My l4 and l5 vertebra in my back are out of place and that is what is causing my pain from the sciatica nerve will these stretching exercises help.

  34. Thanks Carly, I have found these very helpful. I noticed someone mentioned hamstring work. From my experience stretching the hamstring triggers my sciatic nerve pain horribly and I have read it is something to stay away from. Thanks again!

  35. Are these exercises safe for me? I have had two complete hip replacements and have low back pain, sciatica and Piriformis muscle pain. Any suggestions for relief?

  36. I am a 50 year old truck driver who has suffered with hip pain from as far back as my teen years. At one point in my twenties I had to use a cane to walk. I have had pain like a knife being jammed into my hip that would wake me out of a sound sleep. The only relief I ever knew was Chiropractic and that was short term and very expensive. I discovered your information from a Facebook friend I am now looking forward to the benefits I will receive by applying other information I have received from you thank you so very much. Brian

  37. I had sciatica for about 15 years, once or twice a month for at least 3 days at a time; I accidentally cured it with one simple exercise that I was doing for something else! You can do this against a wall if you can't get down on the floor: get into a push-up or plank position with your feet about shoulder width apart; drop your hips towards the floor but do not rest them on the floor; arch your back and look up (like the "cobra" or "upward facing dog" yoga position); hold for 30 seconds (or 10 and increase as you get stronger); return to plank and rest. Do 3-10 times total, 1-3x/day. You can do a "counterstretch" and rest your back by going into "downward facing dog" between repetitions.
    When the sciatica would start to set in, I would feel pressure start to build up in a coin-sized spot on my sacroiliac. I always felt if I could just "pop" that spot, I could prevent the sciatica…but no amount of stretching would get it! Only a chiropractor could pop it for me. Well, after a couple of weeks of doing this exercise, my back popped all on its own when I was getting into my car. I almost fell over from the surprise and relief! It happened a few more times over the next couple months, then I became able to pop it on my own just by touching my toes or other simple stretches. And eventually I stopped getting that sacroiliac pain at all. I've been sciatica-free for at least 

  38. I do not have spinal problems but I think I overstretched my Piriformis Muscle in my left butt check and I have pain only when sleeping. Can not lay on left side and it( left butt) hurts when turning over. I have since been sleeping in a recliner for the last six months. I average 2 hours a night, then stand and walk around…. sleep another two hours and repeat. However, during the day…. I have no pain at all. I dread going to bed because I know I am not getting the proper amount of sleep. I would love to lay down in bed again to sleep even 5 to 6 hours a night without pain interruption. I have done stretches off and on but to no relief. Your Thought?

    • You might need some muscle fascia release – perhaps go and see a massage therapist. I over-stretched my muscle, and it took lots of yoga and rest and healing for it to get better (around 1.5-2 years).

  39. I have 2 slipped discs which sometimes trap an irritate the sciatic nerve.
    Would these exercises benefit me.
    Im in constant fear of getting the pain back I had last year I tend not to try anything except very light exercise.
    I still get the shooting pains and loss of balance but I am learning to live with these.

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