Have Tight Hips? Stretching the Piriformis Muscle Can Help Open the Hips

How to safely stretch the piriformis muscle and open the hips

Stretch the Piriformis Muscle and Open the Hips
Have Tight Hips? These Stretches Can Help. Noe Montes/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The piriformis muscle is a deep muscle located beneath the gluteal (butt) muscles that plays a surprisingly important role in hip flexibility and stability. This large, powerful muscle laterally rotates and stabilizes the hip. The piriformis works along with other hip rotators to turn the hips and upper leg outward (external rotation of the hip). The proper function of the piriformis muscle is essential for athletes who participate in running sports that require sudden changes of direction.

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.

Piriformis Muscle Troubles

Weak or tight piriformis muscles can lead to a variety of problems, not only for athletes. Tight piriformis muscles can lead to lower back pain, hamstring troubles and ultimately disrupt the function of the sacroiliac joint. 

In addition to affecting the hip joint, tight or irritated, tight, weak or overused piriformis muscles can irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs right through the fibers of the muscle. When this occurs, it may cause a pain deep in the hip and buttock, or tingling, numbness or even weakness in the back and running down the affected leg. This is also referred to as a condition called piriformis syndrome where the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve.

While this can be casued by tight muscles, it can also occur by external irritation, such as sitting in the same position (while driving, for example) and irritating both the sciatic nerve and piriformis muscle. Diagnosing piriformis syndrome is not simple because it looks and feels a lot like sciatica (which originates in the spinal discs), so a thorough workout up needs to be done to know what is really causing the problems.

 

Stretching and strengthening a tight or weak piriformis muscle has been found to reduce or alleviate this type of generalized pain in some athletes.

Simple Piriformis Muscle Stretch Options

  1. 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. As you get more comfortable in this seated position, you can turn it into a seated groin stretch by placing the soles of your feet together and pressing gently downward on the knees. Doing this for even a few minutes a day can slowly open the hips and stretch out the glutes and piriformis muscle.
  2. Piriformis Chair Stretch. Another easy way to stretch out the piriformis muscle, especially for anyone who sits for long periods of time 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.
  3. 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. This stretch, pictured above, is a deeper 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 into and out of this pose.

    • Start in a push-up position on your hand 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 square to the floor.
    • You should feel a deep stretch in your right glutes (buttock), hip and the 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 arm 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.

    Continue Reading