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5 Piriformis Stretches for Runners with Back Pain

Published April 16, 2021
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS

The Piriformis

The piriformis a small muscle that begins at your lower spine and runs across your buttocks, where it connects to the top of your thighbone. This stabilizing muscle is centered deep behind your gluteus maximus, very close to the sciatic nerve. The piriformis is important to runners because it aids in hip rotation; it enables your foot and leg to turn outward; and it shifts weight from one leg to the other, providing balance when walking or running.

Piriformis Syndrome

When a runner’s piriformis becomes inflamed —usually due to overuse or muscle tightness/weakness—it can compress the nearby sciatic nerve. This is called piriformis syndrome. It can cause a deep-set pain in the glute region, along with tingling or numbness on one side of the buttocks that often radiates down the back of the same-side leg. Prolonged sitting or running worsens these symptoms.

Can I run with a tight piriformis?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This is one of those injuries that requires time to heal. Exercise is still encouraged, but it is important to avoid the movements that more than likely caused the issue to begin with, i.e., exercises or stretches that involve external hip rotation. 

There are several ways to expedite the healing process.

  • running and other exercises/stretches that involve external hip rotation
  • prolonged sitting
  • exercising without stretching first
  • any activity that causes pain in that region
  • OTC anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs or topical creams
  • massage the afflicted area with a PT ball or massage gun
  • invest in a TENS unit
  • apply an ice and/or heat pack 
  • sit on a foam roller horizontally and roll back and forth (or use a tennis ball)
  • Banded hamstring & piriformis stretch combo. Begin by lying on your mat with knees bent and both feet on the floor. Place a yoga strap (or towel) over the ball of one foot and straighten that leg so that the bottom of your foot faces the ceiling. Use the strap to pull the leg toward you while keeping the knee straight. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

    Once you’ve completed the hamstring portion, it’s easy to shift into this one the piriformis portion of this stretch. Simply straighten the bent leg along the mat and allow the banded leg to come across your body a few inches, just enough to feel a comfortable stretch in the piriformis. Your foot will begin at 12 o’clock and end up around 11 o’clock for the right leg and 1 o’clock for the left. Keep your leg straight. Hold 15-30 seconds.

  • Crossed-leg piriformis stretch. Begin by sitting upright with your legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg and place it over the other, as if preparing to cross your legs. Slowly pull your straight leg inward to your chest. Give your legs a gentle hug. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds.

  • Supine piriformis stretch. Lie flat on your back. Bring one leg toward your chest. Place the opposite hand over your knee and gently pull the leg toward the opposite shoulder (right knee to left shoulder, left knee to right shoulder). Hold for 30 seconds.

  • Yoga-style piriformis stretch. Start by sitting upright with your legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg and cross it over the other. Place the arm opposite of the top leg between your body and thigh. Gently twist at the waist and turn to look behind you. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

  • Seated piriformis stretch. From a seated position, place one ankle over the opposite thigh. Gently pull the knee off the top leg toward to your chest. Hold for 30 seconds.

Updated: April 16, 2021

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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Contributors and Experts

Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, is a board-certified orthopaedic physical therapist & certified early intervention specialist with over 20 years of experience. She is the owner of Marko Physical Therapy.