Lower back pain that radiates to the legs, is often diagnosed as sciatica, which is not a disease in itself; but a set of symptoms, caused by various factors. One such factor is the inflammation or the tightness of the piriformis muscle, which is a small muscle that connects the sacrum to the top part of the thigh bone (femur). This muscle plays an important role in the movement of legs, by facilitating external rotation of the hip joint. Spasm of the piriformis muscle irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve (the nerve that leaves the spinal column, begins in the lower back and runs through the buttocks and down the legs) that passes beneath (or through) it. This condition is termed piriformis syndrome, and the pain associated with it is sometimes called piriformis muscle pain.
Symptoms and Causes
The most common symptom of piriformis syndrome is pain in and around the outer hip bone. In some cases, the pain may originate in the center of the buttocks. The third symptom is lower back pain, which radiates to the thighs and legs. The affected person may also experience muscular weakness, stiffness, numbing and tingling sensation, restriction of leg movements, etc. While some patients experience all these symptoms, others may experience any one or two. It has also been noted that such pain worsens with physical activities.
Even though there are various causes for this type of muscle pain, the most common one is overindulgence in physical activities, like running, walking, and exercising. This is the reason why athletes suffer from this condition more frequently than others. If a muscle is forced to perform beyond its capability, without allowing it to recover, then it tightens as a defensive strategy.
Sitting for long intervals, improper sitting posture, exercising with ill-fitting shoes, and exercising on hard surfaces, may also cause piriformis muscle pain. It is also contended that some genetic factors, regarding the size, shape, and location of the muscle, may also contribute to this condition. So, apart from athletes, those who indulge in a sedentary lifestyle, are also prone to this condition.
It is very difficult to diagnose piriformis syndrome. In most cases, other causes (mainly the spinal ones) are ruled out, before confirming this condition. The treatment for piriformis muscle pain involves use of NSAIDs and/or muscle relaxants. These drugs are effective in treating the pain caused by this condition. The affected people are restricted from doing strenuous physical activities, but piriformis syndrome exercises are recommended. Such exercises strengthen the muscle, and prevent irritation to the sciatic nerve. Physical therapy and muscle massage are also found to be good for these patients. If all the above measures fail to bring relief from pain, then muscle injections are used for treatment. Surgery is the last option, as far as piriformis syndrome treatment is concerned.
Studies show that piriformis muscle pain is a rare condition. In most cases, the lower back and hip pain is found to be caused by other factors. Even if involvement of piriformis muscle is detected, it can be effectively treated with drugs, exercises, physical therapy, and a change in lifestyle.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.