Pain in the butt and down the back of the leg? You might benefit from massage for piriformis syndrome. This syndrome occurs when a tight, tense piriformis muscle presses on the sciatic nerve and irritates it. The pain caused by this condition is sometimes called false sciatica.
The piriformis (in red) lies under the large gluteus maximus muscle, which is cut away in the illustration to the right.
Interesting factoid: A common cause of piriformis syndrome in men is sitting on a wallet.
This article explains more about the condition and provides some information on massage for piriformis syndrome and tennis ball therapy for piriformis syndrome.
True sciatica is caused by injury to or compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower back due to factors such as degenerative disc disease, slipped disc, pelvic injury, spinal stenosis, or tumors.
In contrast, the cause of piriformis syndrome is a tight muscle pressing on the sciatic nerve. The piriformis is one of the small muscles deep in the buttocks. It helps rotate the leg outwards. One end of the muscle attaches to the sacrum, and the other end attaches to the head of the femur (thigh bone).
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and runs from the lower back through the buttocks and down the legs. The sciatic nerve runs near the piriformis muscle. In a few people, the nerve actually goes through the muscle. When the muscle tightens, it can put pressure on the nerve and cause pain.
Piriformis syndrome is easier to treat than true sciatica. You just have to release the tension in the piriformis muscle! (OK, I know that's not always easy.) What can you do?
In this article about massage for piriformis syndrome, orthopedic massage therapist Whitney Lowe recommends starting with superficial effleurage and other general massage techniques to warm and reduce tension in the gluteal muscles, and then using static compression techniques to release myofascial trigger points in the piriformis muscle.
The following video shows one approach to massage for piriformis syndrome:
The goal of tennis ball therapy is to release tension in the piriformis muscle by applying some pressure. It's sort of a substitute for real massage for piriformis syndrome.
Caution: Do this technique gently; otherwise, it may make the pain worse. To avoid damaging the muscle or nerve, stop immediately if you feel sharp pain.
Note: If you find a tennis ball too hard, you can also try a squash ball, which is smaller and softer.
Read more about piriformis syndrome and how to deal with it.