It happened to me about three days into a week long kayaking trip in the middle of nowhere. I woke up one morning and tried to walk down the beach to wash my face, but my leg, or more accurately, my butt wouldn’t cooperate. I could walk, but just barely, because a nagging pain on the right side of my low back and butt was causing my leg to give out.
It wasn’t until a week or two later that I learned that I had something called Piriformis Syndrome that was crippling me. I managed to get through the kayaking trip-surprisingly; I was able to paddle without much pain. However, once I got out of my kayak, I was pretty well hobbled.
Piriformis Syndrome is literally a pain in the butt. Your piriformis is a core stabilizing muscle that runs deep from your sacrum (at the base of your spine) to your hip (the bone on the outside top of your thigh). Your sciatic nerve runs under, and for some people, through the piriformis muscle. When your piriformis is injured, it can compress the sciatic nerve where it passes through the pelvis. Beyond pain deep in your butt, Piriformis Syndrome usually causes pain that radiates down the back or side of your leg, and can travel through your knee and into your foot. The pain can be achy and dull, sharp, nagging, and even cause numbness and tingling.
The symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome tend to mimic those of Sciatica, but for a different reason. Sciatica, which also causes pain that radiates down your leg, occurs as the result of a lumbar disc pressing on your sciatic nerve.
Overuse is a common cause of Piriformis Syndrome, and can be a common injury that sidelines athletes. Prolonged sitting and trauma can also aggravate the piriformis muscle, causing it to swell or go into spasms, which causes the sciatic nerve to be pinched. People with a Type A personality may also be more prone to Piriformis Syndrome, as tension and stress can restrict the flow of blood to muscle and nerve tissues, triggering this painful condition.
There are a number of ways to relieve the pain, but the first order of business is to calm the muscle if it’s in spasm and reduce swelling. Stretching, massage, ice and heat are all in order to tend to this injured muscle.
Typical Western medical treatments for Piriformis Syndrome include rest, physical therapy, local anesthetics injected into the muscle, and prescription pain medications or muscle relaxants. For difficult or chronic cases, your doctor may recommend a cortisone shot into the muscle, and even surgery to relieve the impingement.
Acupuncture can be a very effective treatment for Piriformis Syndrome. This ancient healing medicine from China is based on the idea that your energy, which is produced in every cell, flows in pathways throughout your body. Any kind of congestion or blockage of a pathway can create a variety of symptoms, but most notably, pain. In most cases of Piriformis Syndrome the blockage is usually in the Gall Bladder pathway. This does not mean that your Gall Bladder is sick. The Gall Bladder pathway runs along the side of your body, through your butt and down the side of your leg-right where the pain from your piriformis travels.
An acupuncturist uses hair-thin needles inserted into various points on your body, which can help in a number of ways.
-It can calm the spasm in your muscle.
-An acupuncture treatment promotes circulation to the area of injury, which speeds the healing process.
-Research has shown that acupuncture increases pain-relieving chemicals in the brain.
-Acupuncture is extremely relaxing. Anyone who has experienced a muscle in spasm knows that stress and tension only aggravate the problem.
Your acupuncturist may enlist a number of healing tools to obtain the best results. Besides acupuncture, he or she may combine electric stimulation, heat, and a kind of bodywork similar to massage, called Tui Na to relieve your pain and help you heal.
As for my own injury, once I was out of the wilderness, I enlisted the help of an acupuncturist to help relieve my pain. I was lucky; it took a couple of weeks before I stopped limping, and a few more before I was completely pain-free. Combined with some daily stretching and strengthening exercises from a physical therapist, I haven’t had a recurrence, and I plan to keep it that way.