Today you’re going to learn about the very painful Piriformis / Hamstring Syndrome that can come on quickly but in many cases be very easily resolved.
This is a discomfort, often sharp, radiating within the gluteal region down lower into the hamstring. In my case it manifested as a very sharp pain in the high hamstring area right in that gluteal fold, occasionally the discomfort or tightness would radiate down into the hamstring towards the knee.
I have experienced this problem twice in my running life, both during very high periods of training load. In my case I believe it has very much been related to this combined with my time spent seated.
Piriformis, Sciatica, or Hamstring syndromes are conditions where the sciatic nerve can become highly irritated. The sciatic nerve has it’s roots in the lower spine and travels down the back of the leg all the way to your foot.
Discomfort can occur if the sciatic nerve happens to pass through the piriformis muscle in the butt, the hamstrings in the back of the leg, or be pinched around any bony structures. Sciatica is where this nerve is uncomfortable in the lower back region with disc or spinal conditions that irritate or compress the nerve roots. Sciatica may manifest in the lower back or gluteal region while piriformis may more so show up in the glutes, with hamstring syndrome even potentially down lower in the leg. In my case more recently I even had some very slight numbness in my calf and due to the tightness a drastically limited range of motion in my left leg with hip extension.
The sciatic nerve does not pass through the piriformis for every person but if you’re one of the unlucky few who it does then your chances of experiencing this problem go up. Since a reason for this pain in my case is a compression or pinching of the nerve within the muscle during long periods of sitting on that nerve and muscle in a bent position can aggravate it quite a bit. During my most recent bout I had only been feeling a very very slight discomfort during longer drives of maybe 1-2 hours in duration. However we took a trip to see my family before Desi had to go back to school and it was a total driving time of 12 hours within three days and this really aggrevated the nerve!
Now that we know why and when you may experience sciatica issues, let’s go over what helped me resolve the problem!
1) Reduced Sitting Time
This is a big one! Putting so much of your weight on the muscles of the rear leg and glutes and the nerve with your hips bent in the sitting position can be the primary pain trigger. You’ll see in the above photo that I often will spend my mornings working on our porch and using the ledge as perfect standing desk. For what it’s worth I think having the option to use a standing desk is a good idea in general to reduce sitting time.
2) A Tennis Ball
When you do need to sit, such as while driving or at a desk, you may find as I have that putting a tennis ball or another ball of similar size under the hamstring can go a very long way towards keeping the discomfort at bay. It may not fully prevent the pain and it’s obviously not great sitting on a tennis ball, but it is far more preferable to feeling you’re sitting on a knife. But for me this is the difference between a 7/10 pain and a 2/10 while driving.
3) Neural Flossing & Stretching
This is the main method I was able to resolve my issue and it literally happened overnight!
After my initial 6-hour car drive there was just a bit of slight discomfort. I went for an easy jog and it wasn’t more than a .5/10 until I tried to do a few strides when I was extending my leg up and forward quickly and I could feel the tightness but there was no pain.
The next day after the 6-hour drive back home it was again about the same. Very minimal discomfort while jogging easily but my range of motion moving that left leg up higher, such as during a stride or getting it up on a curb, was severely restricted.
After this run I did a single 10 minute stretching session where I did both neural flossing (nerve stretching) and hip/glute Active Isolated Flexibility work. Later on that day I was out for a walk with Desi and Banjo where I realized that I had zero discomfort and full range of motion! I’m not saying you’ll have such a rapid turnaround, but for me it was night and day in just an afternoon. I was able to run a 15 second 2k solo time trial PR without almost any feeling whatsoever. I’ll continue doing this routine daily for the next few weeks, but the nice thing is that this isn’t exactly a 100% running related issue but moreso a “don’t sit for 6-hours at a time” issue, it’s fairly straightforward to resolve.
This all connects back to how I look at running with myself and with my clients.
We’re all 24 hour athletes – How well we sleep, the amount of sitting time we have each day, calorie intake, etc all plays a part and as a coach I address what needs to be addressed. The best coach in the world can provide a perfect training plan but if there’s other weak links in the chain it’s all going to be for nothing. I have almost all of my clients do a few general strength, stretching, and mobility routines weekly and this goes a long way towards preventing any number of potential injuries such as this one.
These are the principles I use to keep my clients and myself happy and healthy while managing their own busy lives but still enjoying their free time as well.
If you’re into this sort of thing, you know, feeling good about the training you’re doing and noticing improvements in strength and mental clarity, I suggest you check out my 4-Pillars of Success that I base my coaching on with my clients. You can get it at bit.ly/kyles4pillars
The most persistent injury I’ve experienced was a true pain in the butt. If you’re familiar with piriformis, you know I’m not being cheeky. It’s literally a pain in the butt.
Here’s how I managed to take control of this issue.
What is it?
Piriformis Syndrome is when the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle instead of around it, and is compressed (agitated) by the muscle. This discomfort will often be felt in the glutes of high hamstring. Symptoms include a pain that’s typically only on one side of the body. They can run from the lower back all the way down the leg. For me it was a high hamstring slightly pins-&-needles discomfort. The sciatic nerve begins at the base of the spine and travels down the leg before branching out and can cause tingling, numbness, or pain all throughout this area.
Sciatica VS High Hamstring Tendinopathy
This is an incredibly important distinction because stretching can help sciatica but hurt tendinopathy.
Do not stretch hamstring tendon issues!
**more coming on this section**
When did I experience it?
In my case, piriformis pain would show itself during two instances
- During longer (hour plus) car drives without cruise control, such as curvy rmountain roads. The constant pushing and releasing on the gas pedal really aggravated the nerve.
- During the final bit of a long hard run.
How did I solve mine?
Two methods were used, and both involve a little purple ball. The first is that I would place a small tennis ball sized ball under my high hammy when driving or sitting for a long time. Second, I would religiously perform the below exercise 1-2 times a day.
Where am I now?
Now, I can’t even remember the last time I experienced this discomfort during a run. I still have to sit on my little purple ball if I know I’m driving without cruise control for an extended period of time. There are a couple known chairs at local coffee shops that I either avoid or have to use the ball (which I keep in my bag) because for some reason they put me in a position that agitates my sciatic nerve. Currently I don’t suppose I would consider myself “cured” because I do experience it very rarely, however I’d consider myself over this issue, since I cannot remember the last time I felt this pain.
Need Some Guidance?
I’ve created a 30-day General Strength & Mobility challenge! It’s completely FREE and each routine is emailed to you daily. You’ll receive a video walkthrough of each routine and some tips and pointers along the way.
“The leg work I have been doing really paid off. ” Jim I
“Yeah, this sounds great. I need to take my strength conditioning to another level.” Jeff M
“Yes! I want to incorporate more strength training, and I need the accountability to get me started!” Heather H
“Trying to get back into regularly exercising and this sounds like a dreamy addition!” Sara L
What has worked for others?
How to Get a Deep Piriformis Stretch | Carly Fraser | “It is important to note, too, that over-stretching can actually make the condition worse. Light, gentle stretching is best. “No pain, no gain” does NOT apply here. I over-stretched my piriformis and that’s what made it inflamed for 1-2 years (because I was still doing yoga daily, and over-doing it in stretches).”
Yoga for Sciatica | Fiona Tapp and Prevention | “To that end, she suggests the following moves, which release the tense muscles along the back and down the legs.”
How to Use a Tennis Ball to Relieve Sciatic Nerve Pain & Back Pain | The Hearty Soul | “As reported by the Epoch Times,6 75 to 80 percent of back pain cases will resolve on its own within two to four weeks, even without treatment. But you can certainly speed up your recovery.”