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Many people are unclear about the difference between piriformis syndrome and sciatica:  “which one do I have?”  To answer this, it’s important to break down the terms and understand what we’re referring to.

Sciatica is a term that refers to pain that is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.   It is most often felt in the low back and radiating down the back of the leg.

“Radiculopathy” is the term for when the nerve is affected by spinal issues such as disc degeneration, a herniated disc, or a bone spur that compresses the nerve.  So, radiculopathy is a condition that causes sciatic pain.

“Piriformis Syndrome” is a condition in which the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated by a tight piriformis muscle.   Piriformis syndrome is generally very responsive to treatment such as massage therapy or myofascial release.  In some cases, even a single session can greatly relieve pain from piriformis syndrome.

In contrast, sciatica caused by a bone spur or disc degeneration is a more complex issue generally requiring long term treatment.  Always check with your doctor or primary health care provider about what treatment options are best for your condition.

The diagram below shows the piriformis muscle’s location.  Tightness or spasming of this muscle can be caused by activities such as running, driving, or long hours sitting at a desk.

pririformis muscle

Hip stretches such as “pigeon pose” can help relieve a tight piriformis muscle.   You can help prevent piriformis syndrome by performing adequate stretching before and after activities such as running, and by taking breaks to stretch throughout a long work day.

A regular yoga practice is also an excellent step to maintaining healthy hips that function at their best.  For some of the many benefits of a yoga practice, check out this article here:

Rachel Hardy, CMT is a bodworker and coach specializing in Myofascial Release and Nervous System Healing.  She runs a private practice in New Mexico and is also available over Zoom. 

For more info, click here.

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