The piriformis is a muscle located within the buttocks which assists with movement of the hip and thigh. Tightness of the piriformis can result in irritation of the sciatic nerve, which passes through the muscle on its way from the back to the leg. This condition, known as piriformis syndrome, is usually felt as burning or soreness in the buttock, the hip, or the back of the leg. Luckily, the symptoms of this condition can be eased with a few muscle-stretching piriformis exercises. Among the most effective piriformis exercises are the supine piriformis stretch, the seated piriformis stretch, the hip abduction, and the prone hip extension.
One of the most useful piriformis exercises is the supine piriformis stretch. To perform this exercise, lie on the back with the knees drawn in toward the body. Cross the sore leg over the other leg and then “hug” the thighs, linking the hands together behind the knees. Now use the arms to gently pull the legs in the direction of the chest, holding for ten to 20 seconds. A good stretch should be felt in the buttocks.
Also helpful is the seated piriformis stretch. Begin this move by sitting on the floor with the legs fully extended. Bend the affected leg as if assuming a cross-legged position. Grasping the ankle of the bent leg with the hands, gently draw the foot up into the chest, stopping before the stretch becomes painful. Hold this position for ten to 20 seconds.
Some thigh-toning exercises, such as the hip abduction, double as piriformis exercises. To perform this move, secure one end of a knotted exercise band in a doorway. Stand with the unaffected leg next to the door and loop the loose end of the exercise band around the ankle of the affected leg. Keeping the knee fully extended, lift the leg out to the side and then lower. Perform two to three sets of ten repetitions.
Finally, sore piriformis muscles often respond to the prone hip extension. Start this move by lying face down on the floor, placing a pillow under the hips for comfort if desired. Raise the foot of the affected knee until the lower leg is perpendicular to the thigh. Using the buttock muscles, lift the bent leg until the knee is approximately six inches off the ground. Hold this position for five to ten seconds, lower, and repeat for a total of ten to 15 repetitions.