Piriformis Syndrome and Sciatica

Piriformis syndrome is a medical condition that causes sciatica symptoms of leg pain usually caused by lumbar radiculopathy. Sciatica is a collection of symptoms caused by nerve root compressions at the level of the spine. A herniated intervertebral disc is the most common cause of sciatica symptoms while piriformis syndrome is caused by compression of the nerve below the pelvis.

Anatomy of Lumbar Spine

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body made by the collection of the nerve roots L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3. The nerve originates in the lower spine, and as it travels down the pelvis, it lies in front of the piriformis muscle. The nerve exits below the piriformis muscle and lies deep beneath the biceps femoris muscle at the back of the thigh.

Sagittal and axial sections of the lumbar MRI

The sciatic nerve continues down the thigh and at the knee joint’s level, divided into two branches, the tibial nerve, and the common peroneal nerve. The sciatic nerve provides motor supply to major muscles in the thigh, leg, and feet. The nerve supplies the muscles responsible for bringing the thighs together, bending the knee, bending and extending the ankle and the toes. Besides the motor supply, the sciatic nerve carries the sensory input from the legs and feet.

The piriformis muscle is a small muscle originating from the inner aspect of the sacral bone. The muscle extends outwards and attaches to the prominence on the hip bone’s outer side (greater trochanter). The muscle primarily functions to rotate the hip joint outwards (external rotation) and aid in moving the hip to the side (abduction). External rotation and abduction movements help us in our day-to-day activities such as walking, sitting, running, etc.

Causes of Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome occurs due to compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve as it passes under the muscle. The compression may occur as a result of muscle spasm in the piriformis due to irritation.

The piriformis spasm may occur due to excessive training without adequate stretching or repetitive action irritating the muscle. Piriformis tightening or swelling may occur as a result of direct injury to the buttock. The nerve may get entrapped inside the piriformis due to initial injury leading to adhesion of the nerve to the muscle.

There may be anatomical variations in the nerve’s relation to the piriformis muscle. The nerve may split into two parts, passing below it and the other passing above it. The split nerves join below the piriformis to continue down the thigh. One of the divided nerves or the whole sciatic nerve may also pass through the piriformis muscle.

The anatomical variation may make the sciatic nerve more vulnerable to compression or irritation at the piriformis muscle level. The entrapment may occur at the bony ischial tuberosity level or between the piriformis and the gemellus obturator internus muscle complex.

Symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis syndrome usually causes buttock pain that may or may not radiate down the thigh. The pain is generally exacerbated by activities such as sitting or walking for prolonged periods. The patients may especially be intolerant to sitting. In some cases, patients may experience sciatica symptoms during bowel movements as the muscle originates in the pelvis.

The sciatica symptoms caused by lumbar radiculopathy typically occur with activities such as raising your leg while laying down. Additionally, as sciatica is one of the many symptoms caused by the pathology at the spine level, the symptoms may be related to the cause of narrowing the spine. In the herniated intervertebral disc, activities such as bending forward, coughing, sneezing, etc., may worsen the symptoms. In the case of spinal stenosis, activities that involve bending the spine back make the symptoms worse.

Diagnosis of Piriformis Syndrome

The consulting spine surgeon will extract a thorough history regarding the onset of the symptoms and the activities that make the symptoms better or worse. Through a physical examination, the physician will try to localize the pathology causing the sciatica symptoms, which may be coming from the spine or the piriformis muscle.

Physical examination may involve a straight leg raise test, Pace test, and FAIR (flexion, abduction, internal rotation test). The Pace sign is the demonstration of pain from resisted external rotation and abduction. A positive FAIR test involves demonstrating pain as the physician tries to adduct and internally rotate the affected hip.

The straight leg raise test is usually positive in the case of sciatica resulting from lumbar radiculopathy. The test usually involves a demonstration of pain in the back as one lifts the affected leg in the range of 30 to 70 degrees. The test may also be positive in the case of piriformis syndrome.

Additionally, the physician looks for pain on pressing the area of the sciatic notch. The physician may request radiological investigations and neurodiagnostic studies to differentiate the sciatica symptoms.

Management of Piriformis Syndrome

The treatment of piriformis syndrome is mainly conservative. Conservative management involves anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, heat, and cold therapy, etc. The majority of the patients experience an excellent relief of symptoms. NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) medication such as naproxen and ibuprofen act to reduce the inflammation at the site of entrapment/compression/irritation.

Physical therapy is aimed to strengthen and stretch the piriformis muscle to reduce the tightening of the muscle. To improve the patient’s physical therapy participation, the surgeon may inject corticosteroid medication near the sciatic nerve to provide relief from symptoms. Very rarely, operative management may be needed to cut the muscle and release the nerve.

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Troy Spencer
16:46 19 Jan 23
Dr. Karkare is an amazing doctor, very caring and attentive, the girl at the front desk is very kind and helpful. .elizabeth .thank you so much .
blanca ventura
21:32 26 Oct 22
Been going to this place before my accident and after I had my knee surgery. So happy how I been treated and how well I am getting. Thank you all and specially Dr. VAKSHA for everything and getting back on track.
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19:01 25 Oct 22
Love this place From the minute I called I was treated kindly. When I arrived The Dr saw me right away he was compassionate and ordered the appropriate tests for me. I came back in for my follow up and had the same great experience.
Christine Rostock
21:28 23 May 22
Dr Vaksha and Dr karkare are 2 of the best orthopedic doctors around my wife Susan had a very serious broken ankle in March of 2019 she didn't think she was going to walk again Dr vaksha did an excellent surgery on her ankle he said it was his toughest he ever did he put a lot of hardware in her ankle and told her she would be alright she made remarkable recovery thanks to his surgery as of now she regained 100 percent use of her ankle she would highly recommend him to anyone. My own experience with Dr karkare has been wonderful he takes his time with you listens to what you have to say and prescribes various treatments and is very caring I would highly recommend him to anyone I would give both doctors a 10 plus rating we are very happy with them the best.
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23:31 19 May 22
Complete orthopedics is a wonderful place to go when you hurt or injured a great staff and wonderful doctors very knowledgeable and helpful I would recommend this place to all of my family and friends that is in me of orthopedic care I give them 10 thumbs up
Wayne Pemberton
17:39 18 May 22
The staff is very professional and helpful. Dr. Vaksha is excellent. He takes time to listen and offer suggestions to help you get better. I’m very thankful and happy to be a patient here at Complete Orthopedics.
Phoenix Rising
19:54 16 May 22
Dr.Karkare is the best. He listens to everything and explains everything I recommend him to everyone. I am so happy he is my doctor.
Myrna James
00:48 13 May 22
Dr.Kuo is amazing very attentive,caring,and passionate and staff is awsome too.Thank you for everything Dr.kuo.
Erick Murillo
23:17 12 May 22
I was in a car accident November 1 I was referred to Dr. Vaksha For shoulder surgery . I he was amazing he made me feel very comfortable and explained everything that was going to happen from surgery all the way through my physical therapy highly recommend Dr. Vaksha
Yolanda Ojeda
19:37 09 May 22
My appointment with Dr. Vaksha was amazing. Dr. Vaksha was very thorough and kind. I would refer this office to anyone who needs a great orthopedic doctor.
John Senechal
19:54 05 May 22
Scheduling my appointment was quick and easy. The staff was super friendly and down to earth. I was seen on time. The appropriate test, “x-rays” were taken before the conversation with doctor, something I really liked, test for analysis and conversation was done upfront. Dr. V had a great personality and was no BS, straight forward diagnosis and a play on next steps. I am happy I found them and would refer them to friends and family.
Sam
00:46 03 May 22
I have seen Dr. Kuo two times already and he's awesome along with his staff. Very friendly office and I'm glad to be a patient here.
Camaris A
20:01 28 Apr 22
Amazing team!! Very caring, profesional, and friendly!! Dr. Kevin Kuo, you are the best, very passionate, caring, and helping thank you for getting me better and being so kind to me! Elizabeth you the best thank you for you help always and you big smile and positive actitud❤️🙏🏼
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19:01 22 Apr 22
The staff is truly exceptional, they make you feel comfortable and welcomed. The doctors are amazing,always professional, compassionate and great listeners.
Elizabeth Collado
03:25 09 Apr 22
What a great place! The place is clean and organized.The staff is wonderful. Setting up physical therapy is right there as well.I'm so glad I found this place.
Donna Anne
22:45 05 Apr 22
This was my 1st time breaking something in my 27 years on this planet. I was recommended here by a friend Dr. Vashka helped me from day 1 and still continues to check in on me and my healing ankle. Would highly recommend
tyron davis
16:06 01 Apr 22
Brand new office, same great doctors! Rooms are clean, plenty of parking, physical therapy attached, Dr. Karkare and his staff are awesome. Thank you!
Emily B
02:49 24 Mar 22
Dr.VAksha is the best, I love the way he treats me as his patient, he is caring,understanding and very attentive to my needs
Mirna Caballero
14:53 03 Mar 22
Great staff. Dr. Vaksha is awesome and takes the time to listen to his patients. He is very compassionate. I would highly recommend this office.
Bebe Doyle
01:24 23 Feb 22
After suffering from a severe ankle injury Dr. V was able to help me heal and return back to work completely to a job where I stand for 12 hours a day. The office is very clean and I appreciated the reminders of my appointments via phone call and through text. The patient portal made it easy for me to access all my documents including work notes. The office staff is wonderful and Rebecca was able to schedule me with a busy schedule and awesome at answering all of my questions including referring me to a great physical therapy office. I highly recommend this office to anyone who’s looking for knowledgeable and kind orthopedic office.
Elizabeth Birchwell
21:31 28 Jan 21
The staff here are great, I was seen at the time of my appointment and was well taken care of!
Shaun Berry
18:14 07 Jan 21
They are an excellent practice. The front and back office people are amazing and so helpful. Rebecca is such a kind and understanding person. I had an issue with paperwork and she cleared it right up. Dr. Karkare is very knowledgeable, helpful, and caring.
Matt S.
19:31 18 Nov 20
Rebecca K. - What a true burst of sunshine. Very friendly and definitely an asset to the practice!
Laura Aston
18:17 17 Nov 20
Great experience, the Doctor is nice but the staff is incredible. I worked with Linda, who was profession and assisted me beyond what any person has done at other practices. Complete Ortho should be complimented for having such a person on their staff.I highly recommend this place!!!
Joe Allen
17:26 17 Nov 20
Linda and Becca they are so good ever time I come they are very nice I would tell everyone I no to come to this office..
Barbara Victor
16:45 17 Nov 20
I was rear ended in an auto accident , Dr Vashka was recommended by a friend of mine .I was experiencing Back , neck , and shoulder pain . After a thorough examination and given exercises to do at home , I am feeling much better , and I ended up avoiding surgery . The staff at Complete Ortho is extremely attentive and show great care when making an appointment and are very friendly and i never waited more than 5 minutes for my appointment . So I would strongly recommend Complete Orthopedics for any aches and pains that one might be experiencing.....
Bill Becht
04:44 17 Nov 20
It was the afternoon of Friday Sept. 24. We were in Pt. Jefferson and my wife, Mary Ann, broke her hip. We went to Mather Hospital and it was determined that she would have to have an operation to have it repaired. This would be her third time under the knife in the past year. It just so happened that we were very fortunate enough to have Dr. Karkare, who was on standby, perform the surgery. He put in a rod and two screws in her hip. She spent a few days in the hospital and then went to Gurwin rehabilitee for another few weeks.It has now been almost six weeks and we both worked the election the other day. If it wasn’t for Dr. Karkare’s expertise she never would have been able to work. She is able to walk with a walker and is doing physical therapy three times a week.We can not thank the doctor enough for the compassion and dedication that he puts into his work. It allows Mary Ann do the things that she likes to do, even on a limited basis for a while. I know that with her will, perseverance and the great work that the surgeon performed she will be back on her feet in no time.Sincerely:John V. PlumpEast Northport, NY 11731
Jack Harris
14:36 06 Nov 20
In the year of 2018 I was referred to Dr. Karkare because I was experiencing severe knee joint pain. After exhausting physical therapy and trying to labor through the pain, I had to make a quality of life decision. Total knee replacement was the only viable option. Dr. Karkare made my decision easy as he walked me through the whole process from surgery to recovery.On 12/13/19 ( Friday the 13th) I enter Lenox Hill Hospital in great hands. From the time I entered Dr. Karkare’s office for the first time until now, his staff has been amazing. Andrea the medical coordinator walked me through all the paper work and necessary preparations for the surgery. Courtesy and kind would be an understatement. Dr. Karkare went over and beyond from the wellness checks and phone calls all to assure me that I was important to him. This was the right decision no pain and no limp. Complete Orthopedics should be your choice!
Kenneth Randolph
22:18 25 Sep 20
Dr. Vadshka has a great bedside manner. He really takes his time and explains treatment options.
T Lee
12:33 09 Sep 20
I suffered with pain in both knees for years. My orthopedic doctor kept recommending knee replacement . I fought it for years, as I was just afraid. When I had no choice and could barely walk , it was recommended I see Dr. Karkare. We set up a consultation and my wife and I left his office feeling totally confident and comfortable with moving ahead with the surgery. He explained everything to us, and the office staff set everything up for us and made the process easy. So about one month after our initial meeting I had the first knee done. I was up walking mere hours after the surgery, and on the workout machines the next morning. I went home two days after the surgery, and yes walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding only one week after the surgery without even a cane! Three months later I had the other knee done and went home the very next day. Dr. Karkare put my fears to rest . I would highly recommend him. His expertise gave me my life back. Thank you Dr. Karkare.SincerelyVito Congro
Ethel Congo
23:58 12 Aug 20
Dr Rhodin really cares for his patients. When I see him he makes sure to review my progress in detail.
Micki Cahill
15:03 08 Feb 20
My mom had a total hip replacement by dr karkare. He is the BEST orthopedic doctor.Her incision is almost invisable.She is going back for her other hip next week. The office staff is the best, love Andrea.You wont find a better doctor.
Ryan Brigandi
21:06 13 Jul 18
There is no better Orthopedic doctor you will find. Broke my ankle three places on a Saturday. Called Dr. Karkare. He had is team ready at the hospital and operated on me within 6 hours after my injury. Now After 3 months of great care by him and his staff, I am walking to normalcy.
Spacecom Tel
04:13 23 Mar 18
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My name is Dr. Suhirad Khokhar, and am an orthopaedic surgeon. I completed my MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery) at Govt. Medical College, Patiala, India.

I specialize in musculoskeletal disorders and their management, and have personally approved of and written this content.

My profile page has all of my educational information, work experience, and all the pages on this site that I've contributed to.