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Understanding Sciatica, a Tight Piriformis, and the Effects on Your Spine

There’s no doubt that you’ve heard someone mention the term ‘sciatica.’ It’s a common problem with what can be mild to excruciating pain, numbness, and tingling that starts in the sciatic nerve and travels down the lower back, to the hips and buttocks, and down the legs. Many people often think that piriformis syndrome, or a tightening or irritated piriformis muscle is the same thing as sciatica because it happens in kind of the same general area. They are two different issues that cause similar symptoms.

There is a piriformis muscle found in the same area as the sciatic nerve. When that muscle tightens up or becomes irritated, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve resulting in pain. The effects of a tightened piriformis are the same kinds of symptoms including the tingling and numbness in the back that go down the legs and can even reach the feet.

Each of these two health conditions causing the same kinds of feelings makes it difficult to diagnose. However, to get the best treatment, it’s essential to find out if you are dealing with true sciatica or a tight piriformis.

Causes and Symptoms of A Tight Piriformis

Several situations can cause a tight piriformis that can put pressure on your sciatic nerve. The most common include sitting for too long, over-exerting yourself, or an injury or accident to that part of the body.

Over an extended period of sitting in the same position, the muscle can be irritated or inflamed. Without proper treatment, the problem is likely to become more severe and cause more painful symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these issues, you need to get your situation evaluated sooner rather than later:

  • Aching
  • Tingling
  • Soreness
  • Tightness
  • Tenderness
  • Pain with exercises done in a seated position
  • Irritation in the buttocks and down the legs
  • Pain that gets worse when sitting
  • Running or walking is painful

There aren’t any specific tests out there for diagnosing piriformis syndrome. Som evaluations can be done by a medical doctor or chiropractor to help in determining if you have irritated the piriformis muscle. Most of these include the patient laying down while the practitioner moves and rotates the hips and knees while looking for signs of discomfort.

What Happens To the Spine When You Have A Tight Piriformis?

The piriformis is a muscle that is attached to the top of the femur and travels down the back of the pelvis. It is close to the sciatic nerve, which is why people often confuse the associated pain with sciatica. The purpose of it is to keep you stable when you’re standing or walking. It allows you to rotate your femur and extend and abduct your hips. It has been estimated that somewhere near 5% of all low back pain is caused by piriformis syndrome or tightening.

The location where piriformis syndrome occurs can make patients feel like they have herniated a disc. With the femur being located at the base of the spine, pain in that area is common. The spine is the control center that is full of nerves that control all different systems within the body. Any kind of irritation to the spinal region can cause issues in other areas that are controlled by that part of the spine. That’s why a speedy treatment regimen should be decided upon right away.

Treatment Options for a Tight Piriformis Muscle and Sciatica

Most all individuals that get diagnosed with piriformis syndrome or sciatica have a pretty good chance of walking away from it after treatment without any further issues. It is essential to get treatment right away, however. Failure to take care of the problem can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Frequently, a physician or chiropractor is going to recommend some massage, exercise, and stretching of that area. Medical doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxers to reduce the swelling and tightening.

Attending regular physical therapy sessions might be suggested too when the case is a little more serious. It is always best to take the form of treatment that is least invasive first to see what ‘s going to work. Some patients won’t see relief until they get spinal injections while in very few instances surgery is the only option.

Preventing a Tight Piriformis and Sciatica Pain

Prevention is always going to be the best option for any health condition. If you can keep it from happening in the first place, then you don’t have anything to worry about, right?

With that being said, remember that many times this condition is caused by sitting in the same spot for too long. With the number of people that sit behind computer desks these days for work and enjoyment, it’s becoming a more common occurrence. If that’s you, you need to get up and move as much as possible. Ideally, you should be walking around at least a little bit every half hour or so.

There are some jobs, like a driver for instance, when you don’t have the option to just jump out of your vehicle and go for a stroll. When that’s the situation you are in, make your seating position as comfortable as possible. Pay attention to the way you are sitting as well. You want to keep your spine and hips in proper alignment at all times. When you do get a chance to stand, include some light stretching of the hip area to loosen things up and prevent injury.

There is always a possibility that your body has shifted from its natural positioning. That can lead to a plethora of problems including piriformis irritation and sciatica nerve pain. Did you know that regular chiropractic care can also prevent a tight piriformis? Experienced chiropractic doctors, when visited on a routine basis, will do the necessary adjustments and alignments to keep the spinal cord and hips in the proper position.

By visiting a chiropractic clinic, you have a non-invasive, holistic, safe option for treatment and prevention. It’s the ideal choice when you want to avoid potentially harmful medications or surgery that could leave you unable to return to your daily activities right away. He or she is also able to give you exercises and stretches that can be done at home if you have already disrupted your piriformis muscle.

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