Understanding Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is the pain that may occur in the buttocks and/or along the sciatic nerve down the legs when the piriformis muscle, located in the buttocks, spasms and irritates the sciatic nerve.

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The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks.

This image shows the small piriformis muscle in purple, located behind the gluteus maximus muscle, shown here in pink. The piriformis muscle connects the upper surface of the femur to the lower spine, and it turns the leg and foot outward.

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The sciatic nerve runs underneath or through the piriformis muscle.

Below is an expanded view of the piriformis muscle and the sciatic nerve (in yellow), showing how closely they are situated to each other.

When the piriformis muscle spasms and irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve, piriformis syndrome occurs.

See What is Piriformis Syndrome?

This syndrome has symptoms similar to sciatica. Unlike sciatica, however, piriformis syndrome is not caused by a spinal problem.

See Sciatica Causes

See Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica


The piriformis muscle can tighten, swell, or spasm as a result of overuse, injury, or strain.

Problems in the surrounding joints, like the sacroiliac joints shown here, can cause piriformis syndrome. It can also be caused by sports that involve repetitive forward movements of the legs. Because the muscle is so close to the sciatic nerve, irritation of the muscle can cause sciatica-like symptoms.


Tenderness and pain in the buttocks area that is accompanied by sciatica-like pain, numbness, and weakness that runs down the back of the thigh, calf, and foot are symptoms of piriformis syndrome. Pain from piriformis syndrome is often worse when walking up stairs, after sitting, or while walking or running.

See Symptoms and Diagnosis of Piriformis Syndrome


Treatment options for piriformis syndrome include heat and ice therapy, medications, injections, and electrotherapy. For a full description of these treatment options, see Piriformis Syndrome Treatment.

This condition is easily confused with other lumbar spine conditions. Before you begin treatment, make sure you attain a proper diagnosis.

Learn more:

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

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