Tension in the piriformis
muscle can be a trigger for irritation of local surrounding tissues. The sciatic nerve
exits the pelvis just below the piriformis. When there is dysfunction in the lumbo/pelvic/hip complex, the piriformis often gets overworked, creating compression and friction in the small area which can wreak havoc on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is defined as aching/burning/stinging pain along the distribution of the sciatic nerve: buttock, back of the thigh, lower leg and foot.
Stretching the piriformis can be a very effective way of diminishing the compression, and therefore irritation of the nerve. Pictured to the left is a very common stretch given as treatment to relieve sciatica.
Piriformis Stretch Refined
Using the wall and props can be an effective way of maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. A traditional piriformis stretch, like the one shown above, is often done with a tucked pelvis and can irritate the nerve if pulled too aggressively. By staying in alignment, and by being able to adjust the load by gradually bending the knee to 90 degrees, the tissues will begin to yield and let go, rather than work to hold the body in position. Picture on the left: The half cylinder and block supports my shoulders and head to allow me to rest into neutral with my ribs down and in line with the level pelvis. Due to my tension, I also have to support my lumbar area with a rolled yoga mat so I can comfortably attain neutral pelvis (pubis and ASIS level). Middle picture: I place my left leg straight on the wall and cross my right leg over the left, making sure not to tilt the pelvis. Picture on the right: I begin to slide my heel down the wall and stop when I feel that I am at my resistance barrier, or my pelvis begins to shift. Hold at least one minute and repeat on the other side. If you can tolerate the stretch stay longer, up to 5 minutes each side.
Some people will try to get a deeper stretch by pressing the right knee down. Make sure that you don't drag your whole pelvis when you do that (as shown in the pic on the left). The purpose of this refinement is to maintain neutral, and that means a level pelvis (as shown on the right).
Even if you don't have sciatica, this is a wonderful stretch to open the hips, and allow more freedom to your pelvis! Enjoy!