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  • Dynamic Osteopaths

Sciatica & You: Is Piriformis Syndrome the Same Thing as Sciatica?

Updated: Mar 22

Have you have ever experienced pain, tingling, and/or numbness down your leg or down the sciatic nerve, you have likely heard the terms sciatica and piriformis syndrome. These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but are they the same thing?

Firstly sciatica is not a diagnosis, it refers to pain, tingling, and/or numbness felt along your sciatic nerve. Furthermore, sciatica often refers to nerve root in the spine becoming irritated, which helps to make clear that sciatica symptoms are caused by a problem in your lumbar spine (lower back). For example, a lumbar herniated (prolapsed) disc may irritate one of the five sciatic nerve roots that comprise your sciatic nerve, which in turn sends symptoms shooting down your sciatic nerve.

In contrast, piriformis syndrome refers to when the piriformis muscle (deep buttock) irritates your closely passing sciatic nerve. This can often occur when the piriformis muscles is shortened or in spasm from a hip or sacroiliac problem. Your piriformis muscle is not located in your lumbar spine, but rather in your deep buttock. Therefore, strictly speaking, piriformis syndrome is not the same thing as sciatica.

But why does this matter?! The answer to this question is that your treatment plan typically needs to address the underlying cause of whatever is irritating or compressing your sciatic nerve (or nerve roots).

Your treatment plan for your piriformis syndrome may differ significantly from a treatment plan for someone suffering from sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc. More importantly, you may actually make your symptoms worse if you perform a stretch intended for piriformis syndrome if you have a lumbar herniated disc. Therefore, it is essential to have the underlying cause of the pain, tingling, and/or numbness along your sciatic nerve properly diagnosed and treated accordingly.

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