How to Beat This Pain in the Butt
Your piriformis is a narrow muscle is a big one lodged deep in your rear end. This muscle helps you run and rotate your hip. When the piriformis tightens up, runners and others will experience a deep, aching pain in the buttocks sometimes radiating into the thigh, leg and lower back. Both the piriformis muscle and sciatic nerve pass together through a small hole, or foramen, of the pelvis. Because the gluteal muscles get tight and contracted especially after running or sitting at a desk job, “trigger points” and spasms may also develop due to the lack of adequate blood and oxygen reaching the tissues. The problem is when the piriformis gets inflamed it will often compress the sciatic nerve. This causes pain to run down the thigh to the calf or can result in lower back pain.
Piriformis pain is not only a nuisance but will hinder your running. Like plantar fasciatis and other ailments, it is important to follow a committed stretching plan everyday and be committed to loosening the muscles in your butt.
Why Do Runners Have Piriformis Issues?
Why some people get piriformis injuries can have a lot to do with your physiology; but if you are like me and sit poorly, drive a lot, or have a running route with lots of hills, it is possible that these factors can add to piriformis pain.
Runners may experience an overactive piriformis; generally due to the forward motion required by our sport. Because we use the same forward motion over and over again, this results in tight hip flexors/adductors and weak abductors, an imbalance which can also lead to tightening of the piriformis. The piriformis swells and puts pressure on the sciatice nerve. Since the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body when it gets squished, runners will feel the pain. It is important to be cognizant of having tight hips or other conditions such as one leg being slightly shorter than the other, or a cocked hip, can also cause issues in the piriformis.
A Case Study – Piriformis Pain Comes on Quickly
This past weekend I went out for my long run. About five miles in my left hamstring started to bug me. Soon, my lower back was tight. I was on a long run with a lot of up and down hills; the type of hills that are great for hill workouts but not a long, slow run (LSD).
LSDs really should be run on a flat surface. In my town, that opportunity exists in a few places and while Virginia is not San Francisco, where I live it is hilly and avoiding hills altogether is impossible. I realized after spending a good ten minutes this morning doing the recommended stretches I need to and sitting on a tennis ball which was amazingly painful that I should have driven to town and run up and down main street, which is relatively flat. The route I ran took up some amazing hills, and by thet time I had run about 6.5 miles, my whole left side hurt; including my ankle. I walked almost a whole mile for a cool down and have taken care of myself today by stretching and doing some ice skating – a light exercise that got me out of the house but one that didn’t bother my legs.
That said, my hips are very tight today. There is a dull pain in my rear and down my left thigh. These are all symptoms of a tight piriformis which I spent treating today.
Piriformis does give some warning signs. If you find yourself figeting in your car seat and changing the position you sit in as you drive, this is a sign that your piriformis could be acting up.
Also, if you sit with your leg crossed over your lap and you feel stiff, your glutes are tight and you should consider stretching them daily until the pain goes away.
Use Heat to Beat Piriformis Injuries
Unlike other injuries where you are told told to use ice, it is recommended for piriformis injuries that you use heat.
How to Stretch the Piriformis
Preventing Piriformis-Related Injuries
Get out of the car. Now granted some of us have to drive long distances to work but if you sit for long periods of time in the car and then sit at your desk all day, you are ripe for developing a tightening of the piriformis.
Get up and walk. It is recommended that you get up and walk around often during the day and if you have time, go for a walk. Even on days that I am training, if it is nice enough outside to go for a walk during lunchtime, I’ll do it.
Know your body. I have a cocked hip which is genetic. It causes one leg to be slightly shorter than the other which can cause tightness in the hip. Be cognizant of your own physiology.
Do Yoga. I find that there are yoga stretches that do wonders for the hips. There is no need to go to a yoga class if you don’t want to; though attending classes for a while is a great way to enjoy stretching with others. There are plenty of yoga tapes for athletes which concentrate on the stretching what we need to stretch.