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Piriformis Syndrome

By Marcus | In Anatomy & Physiology | on December 9, 2010

Today I want to talk about a pain in the ass (no, I don’t mean Melissa… this time). This pain can hamper your fitness and overall mobility and unfortunately, piriformis syndrome is quite common. The piriformis is a small muscle that is part of the gluteal complex. The problem is that the sciatic nerve runs very close to the piriformis. Issues arise when the piriformis gets shortened or spasms, as it can inflame the sciatic nerve.

Once the sciatic nerve is irritated, it can cause nerve pain from something as minor as walking or even sitting. If you’re not familiar with what nerve pain is like, imagine the feeling when you bang your funny bone, but more intense. Sitting for long periods of time can cause the piriformis to get thrown out of whack, and very few of us aren’t victims of the “slow death” (by chair).

Get comfortable, because I’m going to digress for a little bit of story time. I have the misfortune of suffering from piriformis syndrome on a regular basis. I’m sure my daytime desk job contributes to the problem. For me, the condition most commonly manifests as just a sharp, electrical shock-like feeling when I try to run, but can also be when I step out of the squat rack with weight. The worst case happened back in March when I did heavy split jerks a couple times in the same week when I hadn’t done them in several months. This caused a strain in the hip area and my response was to very aggressively roll the area with a lacrosse ball — huge error on my part. The next day I could barely walk and it took a few months before I was able to even train regularly again.

Through trial-and-error, I have found the following to be especially helpful if you find yourself in a similar situation. As a minor disclaimer, this should not be construed as providing medical advice or as a substitute for a consultation with your medical professional.

First, it may be a good idea to take some ibuprofen to lower the inflammation of the piriformis and take pressure off the sciatic nerve. Normally, I’m not a big fan of taking NSAIDs and recommend using ice or even ice baths. However in this case, you will likely find that the ice cannot penetrate deeply enough due to the surrounding musculature and the ibuprofen will be necessary. I unfortunately suffered for a few days before breaking down and taking some. Don’t repeat my mistake if you can.

Secondly, I found it helpful to mobilize the sciatic nerve in a method known as neural flossing. This is loosely defined as moving a nerve through a small range of motion to alleviate any adhesions. While the mechanic behind it can be debated, I have found it to be an immediate relief when I have an acute flare up. While the guy in this video may be a little quirky, he demonstrates how to do the neural flossing for the sciatic:

Those two preceding bits of advice will help you get past an acute flare up, but for ongoing prevention, there are a few other things you can do.

Strengthen your glutes — sitting all day can cause your hip flexors to become overactive and your glutes to become inactive, which can cause hypertrophy (growth) of the piriformis. To help equalize things out, working on lifts we do regularly — such as deadlifts, squats and lunges — can help reactivate those dormant glutes.

Work on hip mobility — I found the following drill from this article on Mark’s Daily Apple to be especially helpful, but I’d recommend you read the whole thing.

Pick an object on the ground, or place one there. A shoe, a hat, a piece of paper, anything will work.

Now, pick up the object. But wait – don’t squat down to pick it up, and don’t just bend over at the waist. Erase the word “bend” from your vocabulary. You aren’t bending; you’re reaching back with your hips.

Stick your butt backwards, as if you were reaching for a stool to sit down. All the while, maintain a tight lumbar spine. Keep your back straight, in other words. Don’t round your back. Keep your legs nearly straight, too, just enough to unlock your knees.

Stick your hips back until you can grab the object. Grab it, then come back up by reversing the hip motion.

Stretch the area — especially important when spending a lot of time seating, such as on an airplane, Kelly Starrett’s drills can help immensely. Also, the static stretch you may have seen elsewhere can help with this.

As you can see, mobility can not only improve your performance, but can help keep you off the disabled list. Some of you may consider me a little overzealous or whine (*cough* Tamme *cough*) when it comes to our mobility stretches, but I’m just trying to help make sure you don’t repeat my past mistakes.

WOD 12.09.10

Make Up Day

26 Comments to "Piriformis Syndrome"

  • xuan says:

    December 9, 2010 at 7:41 AM -

    Great article Marcus! I thought for sure the pain in your ass was Brianna.

  • melissa says:

    December 9, 2010 at 8:12 AM -

    awww, marcus. talking shit from across the ocean. that’s cute. and wise. 😉

    i thankfully have never had to experience this particular pain in the ass, even though i do spend most of my day sitting. i can only imagine how uncomfortable that must be. :( is it possible that because of all my extra, ahem, insulation in my ass area that i’m less likely to experience this brand of nerve pain?

    1. ruth says:

      December 9, 2010 at 8:21 AM -

      Hey guys check out Al’s box, CrossFitInlandValley.com! Looks like we’re gonna have some virtual drop in’s today!

  • Avelyne says:

    December 9, 2010 at 9:44 AM -

    Thanks for that info Bean! And I’m only commenting because I haven’t been a pain in YOUR ass for a while. 😉

  • Justus says:

    December 9, 2010 at 9:47 AM -

    Hello CrossFit Intrepid!

    My name is Justus Norgord and I help run CrossFit Inland Valley (formally Cutting Edge CrossFit). I have heard a lot about you guys from Al, and you are truly a perfect example of what this crossfit community is all about! It sounds as if you have been blessed with a wonderful family.


  • Carlie says:

    December 9, 2010 at 10:03 AM -

    Hey Everyone. This is Carlie from Crossfit Inland Valley. Just wanted to drop in and say hi to your crossfit community. Enjoy your workout today. Be the best you can be.

  • Becky says:

    December 9, 2010 at 10:50 AM -

    I PR’d on my Box Jumps last night guys!!!!
    I thought of you guys right away, especially Marcus, my No. 1 cheerleader!!
    miss you guys and can’t wait to see you this weekend.

    1. ruth says:

      December 9, 2010 at 11:16 AM -

      Yay!!! Congrats Becky!!! So very proud! You have worked so hard at it! Guess we just have to make u a bigger Becky box now!!

  • Anna says:

    December 9, 2010 at 10:55 AM -

    Yaaay Becky!!! That makes me so proud! :)

    Hi CFIVers! I read your posts every day and was floored with the NLP results. Some of your girls especially are insanely strong.

    Going to get an ugly sweater at lunch, I hope there are still some good ones at the thrift store.

  • Scott says:

    December 9, 2010 at 11:24 AM -

    Congrats Becky!! Awesome accomplishment!

    Hi CFIV!! Justus & Carlie, I hope you guys are taking care of our buddy Al. Give him a 10 burpee penalty today for no good reason!! :) I love the Virtual Drop-In idea. I really enjoy visiting other boxes when I’m traveling. I’ve been to CF Las Vegas, CF Providence, and CF 914. I always have a great experience meeting more crossfiters and seeing how different trainers run their classes. I hope you guys have a chance to make a physical drop-in some day. Ruth and all the trainers do a kick ass job at CFI.

    Marcus….thanks for the knowledge….and the less than flattering picture. :(

  • Xuan says:

    December 9, 2010 at 12:46 PM -


    Welcome CFIV, hopefully our paths cross some time. I actually dropped in on your site for the first time as well to be neighborly.

  • eric salcedo says:

    December 9, 2010 at 1:27 PM -

    Hey wassup Cf Intrepid…. So i’m stopping by the blog to say Hello and introduce myself.. My name is Eric and i train over at Crossfit inland Valley with Al. When Al let us know about this, i though it was a really cool idea. I’m always open to meeting new people, especially people we can share goals and ideas with. Maybe one day you guys can come over to our box and join us for a wod or even come by or grand opening which i hear is early next year…..

    Anyways.. you can add me to your facebook if you got one, just shoot me a message that you’re from Cf intrepid..


    always a pleasure,


  • Michael H says:

    December 9, 2010 at 3:33 PM -

    great article Marcus! definitely had similar issues not to long ago.

    awesome drop in from the CFIV crew. when is the new box going to be done, we should all swing by on the new grand opening!

  • Jennifer Dishon says:

    December 9, 2010 at 4:01 PM -

    Hello CrossFit Intrepid. I am Jennifer and I train at Inland Valley Cross Fit. I am real new to the cross fit community and am up for meeting everyone I can. Have a wonderful day.

  • Tamme says:

    December 9, 2010 at 4:42 PM -

    This is just my favorite CFI picture ever!!! Everytime I see it…I’m like man we are sooo great & awesome!!!!!!

    Welcome CFIV!!!!!

  • Al says:

    December 9, 2010 at 6:21 PM -

    Thanks for the hospitality CFI. We’d like to get out there and do more of these virtual Drop-Ins with other gyms but I wanted you all to be the first. You’re one of the best examples I know of the word community and I wanted to share it with my CFIV fam. Hope to see you all really soon. We’ll keep you posted when we’re going to hold the grand opening (probablt February).

    Much love-

  • Sean says:

    December 9, 2010 at 6:43 PM -

    Hello CFI, I love this part of crossfit, the community. Great post, very educational. I hope everyone had a great workout, ate something natural, and is ready for a great holiday season…

  • Angela Gartley says:

    December 9, 2010 at 7:26 PM -

    Hi CF Intrepids! My name is Angela and we LOVE AL! thanks for sharing him with us. i love meeting new cf minded people! arent we just the best of the best?! cf community nevers lets you down.

    ok well be good, or be good at it!
    catch me on facebook, just tell me you are from cf intrepid

    angela gartley or gartleyangela@yahoo.com or im also Al’s friend on fb!

  • Danielle says:

    December 9, 2010 at 7:31 PM -

    Hey there CF Intrepid..this is Danielle from CFIV…Just wanted to say Hi to everyone!! And yes our wod was killer who would of ever thought four burpees could be so awful!! lol

  • ruth says:

    December 9, 2010 at 8:30 PM -

    Hey CFIV! Thanks so much for dropping in and I can’t wait to meet you guys at your grand opening! We’ll definitely field trip out there! If any of you are in town please drop in (in person) and say hi!

    Thanks Al for the shout out and we’re so honored to be your first drop in! We’ll have to pay it forward and broaden our community as well!

  • Danielle Heider says:

    December 9, 2010 at 8:47 PM -

    Hi CrossFit Intrepid! I’m Danielle H. from CFIV. I loved your topic today. So helpful for me. I suffer from sciatic problems whenever I take long car rides in my husband’s F-150. I can barely walk once we get to my sister in law’s in Arizona!
    I hope you guys can come out and visit us at our new box someday. It’s pretty sexy! And thanks for letting us “Rear Window” your site. Good stuff!
    Always give it all you got.

  • Karla says:

    December 9, 2010 at 9:23 PM -

    Hi cf intrepid! I’m Karla from Cfiv, u guys r awesome!!!

  • Pooja says:

    December 9, 2010 at 10:25 PM -

    great post marcus! and i’ll disagree, melissa is NOT a pain in the ass :) don’t worry i got yo back girl.

    miss you! it feels like its been forever :( see ya’ll monday!

  • Alia says:

    December 10, 2010 at 10:28 AM -

    HAHAHA! I love the CFIV blog bomb. LOVE IT! Hope to meet you guys and gals soon. I Heart the CF community.

  • Tamme says:

    December 10, 2010 at 10:40 AM -

    Marcus….that’s cold…i just read your comment about me…(ha,ha,ha)….
    great blog tho – you are smart!

  • Tamme says:

    December 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM -

    Alia, (323) 252-0758.

    Just for the holidays.

    Can’t wait to see it Thurs. morning.

    Sleep later. : )

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