4 Essential Piriformis Stretches

The piriformis muscle is located deep beneath the gluteal (butt) muscles and plays an important role in hip flexibility and stability. This large, powerful muscle rotates laterally and works along with other hip rotators to turn the hips and upper leg outward.

Strong and flexible hip rotators keep hip and knee joints properly aligned. They also help prevent sudden twisting of the knee during quick side-to-side movements, fast turns, lunges, or squats. So, weak or tight piriformis muscles can lead to a variety of problems.

The proper function of the piriformis muscle is essential for athletes who participate in running sports that require sudden changes of direction, such as soccer or basketball. It's also important for everyday movements, like chasing small children or turning to catch a falling paint can.

Learning both beginner and advanced piriformis stretches can help alleviate or prevent the pain you can experience from this muscle that lies deep in your buttocks.

Piriformis Syndrome

Tight piriformis muscles can lead to lower back pain, and ultimately disrupt the function of the sacroiliac joint. Injury or irritation of the piriformis muscle can cause muscle spasms, tightness, and swelling.

The sciatic nerve runs under the fibers of the muscle. If tightness or swelling of the piriformis compresses the sciatic nerve, it can result in a condition called piriformis syndrome. When this occurs, it may cause pain deep in the hip and buttock, or tingling down the back and running down the affected leg. While this can be caused by tight muscles, it can also occur by external irritation, such as sitting in the same position (while driving, for example) for prolonged periods.

Diagnosing piriformis syndrome is not easy because it looks and feels a lot like lumbar radiculopathy. So, a thorough workup needs to be done to know what is causing the problems.

Safety and Precautions

If you suspect that you may have piriformis syndrome, consult with your doctor before doing these stretches. Your doctor can advise whether they are safe for you given your health, medical conditions, and fitness level.

Stop if you feel pain while doing these stretches. These movements are meant to relieve minor soreness or tightness, not to increase your pain levels. If they do cause you pain, your doctor may recommend other forms of treatment. Also stop if your legs feel weak or numb.

Piriformis Muscle Stretches

Stretching and strengthening a tight or weak piriformis muscle has been found to reduce or alleviate this type of generalized pain in some athletes. It's also beneficial for non-athletes, providing better hip flexibility and strength. Here are four piriformis muscle stretches to consider.

Cross-Legged Seat

One of the easiest ways to keep your hips open and stretch your piriformis muscle is by sitting cross-legged on the floor for several minutes a day. Doing this for even a few minutes a day can slowly open the hips and stretch out the glutes and piriformis muscle.

Piriformis Chair Stretch

Another easy way to stretch out the piriformis muscle, especially for anyone who sits for long periods each day, is to simply cross one leg over the other with your ankle resting on the knee of the opposite leg. Gently press down on the inside of the knee and slowly lean forward until you feel a mild stretch in the hips. This easy desk stretch can help keep the hips open.

Lying Piriformis Stretch

A more intense stretch can be performed while laying on your back on the floor. Cross the right leg over the left, with the right ankle resting on the left knee. Slowly lift the left foot off the floor and toward you while you apply gentle pressure to the inside of the right knee. Hold 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Advanced Piriformis Stretch (Pigeon Pose)

After working through the easy and moderate piriformis stretches mentioned above, you can use the advanced stretch. In this deeper piriformis and hip stretch you use your whole body weight to stretch the piriformis, and other hip rotators. Use caution as you get into and out of this pose.

  • Start in a push-up position on your hands and toes.
  • Slide your right knee forward toward your right hand. Angle your knee, so the outer ankle is touching the floor (see picture).
  • Slide your left leg back as far as comfortable.
  • Keep your hips squared to the floor.
  • You should feel a deep stretch in your right glutes (buttock), hip and outer thigh.
  • You can either stay up on your hands or fold forward and let your forearms rest on the floor in front of you or fully extend your arms in front of you.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply from your belly. Hold the stretch 30 seconds to 60 seconds and release. Repeat on the other leg.
1 Source
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  1. Barbosa ABM, Santos PVD, Targino VA, et al. Sciatic nerve and its variations: is it possible to associate them with piriformis syndrome? Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2019;77(9):646-653. doi:10.1590/0004-282x20190093

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.