(Keywords: piriformis syndrome, help for sciatica pain, chiropractic help, tingling in feet and legs )
The name piriformis syndrome arises from the piriformis muscle, a small muscle that passes from the sacrum, [or tailbone, the large wedge-shaped bone that forms the base of the spine], deep in the buttock to its attachment on the side of the hipbone. It is a small muscle compared to other muscles around the hip and thigh, aiding in external rotation (turning out) of the thigh bone (femur).
The sciatic nerve passes close by the piriformis, and sometimes through the fibres of the muscle.
AN ENTRAPMENT SYNDROME
This is what is called an entrapment neuropathy. It is
postulated that when the muscle becomes tight, it may press on the
sciatic nerve which lies close by. Pain along the course of the sciatic nerve is called
The piriformis muscle and its tendon have an intimate relationship to
the sciatic nerve - the largest nerve in the body - which supplies the
legs with motor and sensory function. It drives many of the leg muscles,
and brings sensation and other information back to the Central Nervous
System. (For example hot and cold, position sense, vibration sense.)
Medically, it is acknowledged that about a quarter of surgeries for sciatica fail and lead to FBS, Failed Back Syndrome.
In the United States alone, each year 1.5 million people have lumbar MRI scans to look for the cause of the buttock and leg pain called 'sciatica'.
More than 1.2 million (over 80%) of those scans fail to find the cause in the spine.
But three hundred thousand of the scans are sufficiently positive that the patient has lumbar spine surgery. Of the 300,000 surgeries, as many as 25% fail to relieve the pain - in many cases this is because the diagnosis of a spinal cause for the sciatica was incorrect. Was it an irritation of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle?
Physical findings include tenderness of the buttock region, increased pain with adduction, internal rotation and flexion of the affected thigh, weakened abduction of the flexed thigh and frequently sacroiliac joint derangement and/or an associated iliotibial band syndrome. Sacro-iliac joint tests are often positive. Electrodiagnostic tests may be positive if the thigh is placed in a position which places the piriformis under extreme stretch (flexed, adducted and internally rotated).
Sometimes referred to as "deep buttock pain," other causes of this type of pain include spine problems (including herniated discs, spinal stenosis, etc.), pinched and irritated nerves, and tendonitis. The diagnosis of this syndrome is often given when all of these diagnoses are eliminated as possible causes of pain. Other signs of of this syndrome include examination maneuvers that attempt to isolate the function of this muscle, and the finding of pain directly over the tendon of the piriformis muscle, which then radiates down the leg.
A high lumbar facet syndrome can irritate the superior cluneal nerves which supply part of the buttock, and the groin, and can easily lead one to suspect a piriformis syndrome.
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In medicine it is freely acknowledged that no one really knows exactly what causes piriformis syndrome, or if it really exists. Some physicians believe that it is the name given to hip/buttock pain that cannot be otherwise diagnosed. However, others believe that piriformis syndrome is a very real cause of pain and disability.
Unfortunately, the treatment of piriformis syndrome is quite general, and it is acknowledged by orthopedists that it is often a difficult problem to recover from. Some treatment medical suggestions are:
* Physical Therapy - Emphasis on stretching and strengthening the hip rotator muscles
* Rest - Avoid the activities that cause symptoms for at least a few weeks
* Anti-Inflammatory Medication - To decrease inflammation around the tendon
* Deep Massage - Advocated by some physicians
On some occasions, when these treatment fail, patients have surgery to release, or loosen, the piriformis muscle tendon. This surgery is not a small procedure, and generally considered the last resort if a lengthy period of conservative treatment does not solve the problem.
Searching for something specific? For example, type " help for sciatica pain " in this box.
Chiropractors treat the piriformis syndrome with confidence. Treatment is based on findings of a fixated sacrum (based on motion palpation and the Derefield test) and active trigger points in the piriformis muscle.
A true short leg may be a part of the problem, in which case a heel lift may be employed.
Some chiropractors consider that carrying of a wallet in the back pocket may be part of the problem.
Manipulation of the sacral portion of the sacroiliac joint anatomy and stretching of the piriformis muscles, cross-friction of the muscle and possibly needling, and rehabilitative exercises.
Note the proximity of the sacro-iliac joint to the piriformis muscle which has its origin on the anterior surface of the sacrum and passing to the hip bone. They have a profound effect on each other.
Motion palpation inevitably reveals a FIXATION of the Sacro-iliac joint. Releasing this fixation is what gives chiropractic the edge in treating the piriformis syndrome.
Because the piriformis muscle forms part of the pelvic floor, it is often associated with groin and pubic bone pain, especially in pregnancy. Read more about pubic bone pain …
See the piriformis? It's striped...
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Interesting challenges of the day
1. Mr B has the trophy for the most acute neck in February. He has quite advanced lower neck arthritis for a forty year old, thanks to a severe fall on the head from a trampoline. But this is upper cervical pain. Right rotation is simply impossible. Luckily he is improving rapidly, eighty percent better he says after three treatments. See cervical facet syndrome.
2. Mrs C is a new patient with a long history of lower back pain, hip pain and pain in both feet. We'll see how we get on, Rome wasn't built in a day.
3. Miss U sprained her ankle two months ago, wearing high heels. She still has severe mid foot pain. Xrays and perhaps a CT scan.
4. Mr V is 86 years old and hurt his back helping his wife into the car. Just one treatment of the sacroiliac joint and he's eighty percent better. It's not always like that.
5. Mr W lay on his back knocking down a pillar. Turning his head causes severe vertigo. He needs the Epley exercises, not pills, research shows. Update, he's fine.
6. Mrs X, a young mother has severe lower back pain, with numbness down the posterior thigh, calf and side of foot. It started after a long drive in the car. Update, she's forty percent less painful after four treatments, but the leg is still numb. Update two; she 60% better, but it's slow and is going to take the full 6 weeks to heal. Further update; a setback, after lifting her child she now has leg pain. It's going to the be difficult.
7. Mrs Y, a 70 year old woman is on maintenance care fo a nasty lumbar stenosis despite having to do everything at home. Her husband has a hospital acquired infection in the shoulder. After 4 operations he is incapacitated and going rapidly down hill.
8. Mrs Z, an 78 year old woman is doing remarkably well with a bad sciatica. But at over 200 lbs she is not losing weight, in fact gaining despite my suggestions. She's high risk for a stroke. Referral to a dietician to crack the whip.
9. Mr A, a 73 year old engineer, still working, is doing fine after a long episode of lower back pain. Some pain on the side of the hip remains after five treatments. Reassured him it's not hip arthritis.
10. Mrs B, a 64 year old woman has had Scheuermanns disease; it's left with a spinal kyphosis and chronic middorsal pain. She responds well to chiropractic treatment, provides she come every six weeks or so for treatment.
11. Mr C, a young engineer fell off his mountain bike injuring his cervical spine and pelvis. Luckily both responded very quickly to a few chiropractic adjustments. Update: his neck is sore again. It all goes back to a whiplash injury ten years ago when he was rammed by a fully laden truck carrying a load of stone. Time for Xrays.
12. Mrs D, a middle aged woman with hip pain of one year duration, despite other treatment. Xrays reveal an impingement syndrome and early hip arthritis. There's much to be done.
13. Both Mrs E and I can't believe how much better her lower back and leg pain are. Surgery for a scoliosis and spondylolysthesis three years ago helped greatly for one year. But then her leg went lame and weak. He was responded extremely well despite all expectations.
And so the day goes. Chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly? Bunkum.
Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?
Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional
response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor.
You write a superb newsletter, too.
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