Lying Piriformis Stretch

A basic stretch for the piriformis muscle, glutes and hips

Lying Piriformis Stretch
Lying Piriformis Stretch. Mark Dadswell / Getty Images

The piriformis muscle is a deep muscle located beneath the gluteal (butt) muscles. The piriformis muscle laterally rotates and stabilizes the hip. This muscle is important for athletes who participate in running sports that require sudden changes of direction. The piriformis works along with other hip rotators to turn the hips and upper leg outward (external rotation of the hip). Strong and flexible hip rotators keep hip and knee joints properly aligned during activity and help prevent sudden twisting of the knee during quick side-to-side movements, quick turns, lunges or squats.

A condition called "piriformis syndrome," which causes pain deep in the hip and buttock, is believed to be caused when the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. Stretching and strengthening a tight or weak piriformis muscle has been found to reduce or alleviate this pain in some athletes.

How to Stretch the Piriformis Muscle

Lying Piriformis Stretch

A good stretch for most athletes is the lying piriformis stretch that is performed while laying on your back on the floor.
  • Lay down on the floor on your back.
  • You can put one foot up against a wall (as shown) to provide additional support during the stretch.
  • Cross the left leg over the right, with the left ankle resting on the right knee (as shown in the photo).
  • If not using a wall for support, slowly move your right thigh toward your chest as you apply gentle pressure to the inside of the left knee.
  • You should feel a deep stretch in your glutes (buttock) and hip.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply from your belly.
  • Hold 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Additional Ways to Stretch the Piriformis Muscle

  • Sitting Cross-Legged. 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.
  • Piriformis Chair Stretch. Another easy way to stretch out the piriformis, especially if you have a desk job, is to 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.
  • Advanced Piriformis Stretch. This stretch is also called the Pigeon Pose in yoga. It is a more advanced piriformis and hip stretch, in which you use your whole body weight to stretch the piriformis, the IT band and other hip rotators. Use caution as you get in to and out of this pose.

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