The piriformis is a flat muscle that is part of the external rotators of the hip. It attaches from the edge of the sciatic notch towards the greater trochanter. It also helps with abduction of hip while flexed, and tilts the pelvis to the appropriate position during movements.
When the piriformis is too tight or inflamed, it may cause a condition called piriformis syndrome. This may occur due to the piriformis compressing the sciatic nerve that passes through the sciatic notch. Symptoms of piriformis syndrome include radiating low back pain, pain and numbness from the glute towards the lower limb, and weakness in the lower limbs. In addition, piriformis syndrome can masquerade as other conditions such as degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the spine, and herniated disc.
If the piriformis feels inflamed and warm to touch, ice packs may be used to relieve some of the inflammation and decrease compression on the nerve. Otherwise, a heat pack on the piriformis may help relax the muscle, relieving tension at the sciatic nerve. Stretching like the Figure 4 Stretch may reduce compression on the nerve by stretching out the piriformis muscle.