Question: Are piriformis stretching exercises important for sciatica?

I have a herniated disc at L5-S1, causing sciatica down my right leg. I have had some success with physical therapy, but some of the exercises, such as stretching the piriformis muscle, are causing leg pain.

Are the piriformis stretching exercises important for healing from the herniated disc?

Article continues below

Doctor’s Response: Stretching for sciatica from herniated disc may cause pain initially

A lumbar disc herniation can cause tightness in the piriformis muscle, and a tight piriformis muscle can cause leg pain that feels like sciatica, so in many cases it is important to stretch out the piriformis muscle to obtain relief from sciatica. Often the stretching exercises for the piriformis may initially cause more pain. To make sure that you are doing the exercises and stretches correctly it may be helpful to check with an appropriately trained health professional (such as a physical therapist).

If your leg pain persists for three or four months while doing the exercises, conservative care such as exercise may not be sufficient to relieve your pain. If this is the case, I would advise you to be evaluated by a spine surgeon.

If there is a great deal of pressure on the nerve root, surgery may help the herniated disc heal faster than additional conservative treatment.

Recommended Articles:

In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.