Written By: Dr. Evan Steinke, B.Sc, DC
Many of us have heard of sciatica (SI), a painful compression of the nerve running down the back of your leg, however, not many have heard of Piriformis Syndrome. To understand the difference it helps to first understand what the sciatic nerve is and where it travels.
The sciatic nerve is the thickest nerve in our body and is the result of several nerve roots from the lower back and sacrum coming together to form one larger nerve bundle. This bundle is formed around the level of our hip joint and runs the entirety of our leg, from glutes to feet. Nerves branch off to supply everything from the muscles of our legs to the skin and joints. Therefore, any irritation or compression to the sciatic nerve, or the nerve roots it is comprised of, can cause symptoms along its length. In fact, this is what sciatica is in reference to, pain and other symptoms that affect the nerve roots or sciatic nerve. Typically we think of disk herniations, degeneration, or joint narrowing that compresses and irritate the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve as the cause of sciatica. However, this is not always the cause, in some cases, the sciatic nerve itself can be compressed by muscles which leads us to piriformis syndrome.
Piriformis syndrome gets its name from the piriformis muscle, a slender muscle running from the sacrum to the hip. The location of the muscle places it dead center in the gluteal region and also right over the top of the infamous sciatic nerve. As a result, tension and tightness or inflammation in the piriformis muscle can lead to compression and irritation of the sciatic nerve which in turn may cause sciatica. This could include pain in the gluteal region with possible radiation along the length of the nerve as it travels down the leg to the foot. It can also be characterized by feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg and/or foot. Due to its position and function, you may feel increased irritation with sitting for a sustained period or with exercises such as squats.
In any case, if you are experiencing pain along the back of your leg or feelings of numbness or weakness it is best to see your practitioner and have the exact cause determined. From here an appropriate treatment and management plan can be implemented to help you.
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*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.