Piriformis Syndrome vs. Sciatica - Is there a difference?
COMPRESSED AND IRRITATED SCIATIC NERVE CAUSING LOW BACK/BUTTOCKS PAIN
Piriformis Syndrome vs. Sciatica
If you have low back pain with tingling, burning or numbness that reaches all the way down to your feet, most people will tell you that you have Sciatica. But, do you really? Sciatica is more commonly diagnosed than Piriformis Syndrome, but the symptoms of the two are almost identical.
Both conditions cause the same result: the sciatic nerves become compressed. They even cause many of the same symptoms, but there is one major difference. Piriformis Syndrome occurs when there’s a problem with the piriformis muscle (a muscle located deep to your gluteals). In order for the problem to be diagnosed as Sciatica, the sciatic nerve can be compressed as a result of disc herniation, spinal degeneration in the lower lumbar area, or a tight piriformis muscle.
Still sound confusing? Let’s look at how the two are diagnosed.
If your doctor thinks you have Sciatica or Piriformis Syndrome, he or she will put you through a series of tests. It’ll start with a standard physical exam and progress to some imaging tests. You might expect to undergo a spinal x-ray, MRI or a CT scan. These tests will help the doctor figure out whether you have Sciatica. If you don’t have visible disc herniation or spinal degeneration, you may have Piriformis Syndrome. There aren’t any definitive tests for Piriformis Syndrome, but if you have a great deal of pain or numbness when you straighten your leg (so it’s parallel to the floor) or when you press on the piriformis muscle, you probably have piriformis problems.
It’s important to mention here that it is possible to have both Sciatica and Piriformis Syndrome. So, even if you’re diagnosed with Sciatica, you could also be suffering from Piriformis Syndrome. Moreover in approximately 1 in 7 the sciatic nerve will pass through, rather than under, the Piriformis Muscle making Piriformis Syndrome much more likely - as a tight piriformis muscle will more easily compress the sciatic nerve causing low back, buttocks, and radiating leg pain.
You may be wondering why all this matters. If your sciatic nerve is compressed, then it's compressed, right? Who cares what you call it? Well, the main reason for the differentiation lies in the treatment.
Treatment for Sciatica will depend on the severity of the case. In some cases, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications are enough to keep the pain and numbness at bay. More severe cases require injections or surgery.
Treatment for Piriformis Syndrome is more straightforward. Piriformis Syndrome can usually be treated with physical therapy or chiropractic care (although, sometimes anti-inflammatory medications are also needed). Because this syndrome usually comes as a result of misuse or overuse of the piriformis muscle, proper and consistent stretching helps in almost every case. But, not everyone has the time or resources to see a physical therapist on a regular basis.
That’s why Miracle Stretch® created the Piri-Stretcher®. This home exercise tool offers a way to focus the stretch directly on the problem area: the piriformis muscle. If you think you’re suffering from Sciatica, you may want to ask your doctor if Piriformis Syndrome could be the root of your problem. You may have both, or you may just have an issue with your piriformis muscle that can get better with physical therapy. It’s worth investigating, right?
What is the Piriformis Muscle and how does it relate to my Sciatic Nerve?
If you are suffering from Piriformis Syndrome (or think you may be), it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with it. Piriformis Syndrome usually responds very well to stretching and physical therapy, but in order to stretch a muscle, you need to know where it is, right? Right. So, let’s take a closer look at this muscle that seems to be causing a lot of trouble for so many of us.
Where is the Piriformis Muscle?
The piriformis muscle is a butt muscle. It’s located at the top of your buttocks right next to your hip bone. To be technical, it starts at the anterior surface of the sacrum and the superior margin of the greater sciatic notch. If you didn’t understand all that, it’s okay to just call it a butt muscle. We did.
Anatomy of the Piriformis Muscle
The muscle fibers run almost completely in a horizontal line, and they actually get inserted into the greater trochanter of the femur (along with many other muscles). The piriformis muscle is located near the gluteus medius and the larger gluteus maximus. You see? The gluteus maximus isn’t the only muscle in the buttocks. It’s time to get to know your piriformis.
How Can a Muscle Cause So Much Pain?
If you suffer from Piriformis Syndrome, you may be experiencing pain in the buttocks, low back, and down the leg. How could one butt muscle cause pain that shoots down your leg? Well, the reason the pain radiates is because it’s not actually coming from the muscle itself. The pain you’re experiencing comes from the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle is the closest muscle in your rear to the sciatic nerve; the sciatic nerve runs behind the piriformis, and in 15 to 20 percent of people, the sciatic nerve runs right through the piriformis. Since the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body - running down your back, buttocks, and legs - and at nearly three feet long (about as long as a golf putter!) that puppy hurts if it's compressed. So if your piriformis is tight, or you have inflammation or piriformis muscle spasms, your muscle puts pressure on the sciatic nerve – and that’s what causes all the pain, numbness, tingling and associated Sciatica.
What Can I Do About Piriformis Syndrome And Is It Too Late ?
The good news is that Piriformis Syndrome can usually be treated without surgery. By knowing the right exercises to do, and by doing them the right way. The little piriformis is not only a hard muscle to isolate, but most of us just aren't that flexible. That’s why Miracle Stretch® developed the Piri-Stretcher® home exercise tool. The Piri-Stretcher® is designed for leverage, isolation, and optimal control to help you gently stretch the piriformis muscle. You don’t have to memorize laborious exercises. No uncomfortable twisting, crunching, or worrying about whether you are doing it right. We make it simple for you. You just have to use the tool and relax into a focused stretch. So many folks have amazing results, alleviating pain and discomfort completely – without prescription medications, injections, or surgery. (To hear more from our happy customers, read here!)
If you suffer from this, you know it’s not fun. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can be debilitating. Each day you decide not to stretch this important muscle is another day that you can guarantee nothing will change. Instead, try giving the muscle a little stretch. We think you’ll be pleased with the results.