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The piriformis: small muscle but large pain in the butt

Pigeon pose

The piriformis is a small but mighty muscle with the ability to derail your running. Why is this muscle important? Runners, particularly those who run great distances, can experience intense pain in their buttocks, lower back, pelvis, hips and surrounding area when this muscle is tight.

The piriformis muscle is located deep in the buttocks and sits below our gluteus maximus, connecting our legs to our spine. It rotates the hip externally and works with the gluteus maximus in hip extension.

When the gluteus maximus is weak the piriformis must carry the burden. This can lead to a tighter piriformis muscle. The piriformis sits above the sciatic nerve, the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body. For a small percentage of people the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis or splits around the muscle. When the piriformis is tight and irritated it becomes inflamed and aggravates the sciatic nerve resulting in pain.This pain is called piriformis syndrome.

To avoid a tight piriformis and the uncomfortable pain associated with it, it’s important to strengthen hip abductors. It’s also important to lengthen tight hip flexors, hip adductors, hamstrings and the piriformis itself.

Below are a few yoga poses to help lengthen the piriformis muscle:

Cow face pose

Cow Face Pose (Legs only) – Start in a seated position. Cross your right leg over your left bent knee. Try to align your knees so the right is stacked on top of the left knee. Your heels are on either side of your hips. Equally distribute the weight evenly between your sits bones as you might feel you are leaning to the left. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds before switching sides.

Pigeon pose

Pigeon pose – Start in plank or downward facing dog. Bring your right knee forward towards your right wrist. Rotate your right thigh out, bringing your right foot behind your left wrist. Flex your right foot. To get a deeper stretch bring your right shin so that it is parallel to the top of your mat. To lessen the stretch, bring your right foot closer to your buttocks. Send your left leg behind you, bringing your left shin, knee and thigh to the floor. Square you pelvis to the front of your mat.

Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds before switching sides.

Reclining big toe pose

Reclining big toe pose – Start by lying on your back with both legs straight in front of you. Bend the right knee and hook your right foot into a strap. Straighten your right leg so the sole of your foot is parallel to the sky. Place your right hand on the ground beside your right hip and take the strap in your left hand. Lower your right leg to the left. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds before switching sides.