Piriformis syndrome is not uncommon in strength athletes. In both weightlifting and powerlifting, squatting with heavy weights is required. The squatting motion can lead to injury or tightness of the piriformis muscle. If you suspect you have piriformis syndrome, there are ways to manage the issue and return to your sport.
Have An Accurate Diagnosis
Most people with piriformis syndrome identify the problem when they begin experiencing sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body—it starts in the back and goes down the back of the leg. With sciatica, the pain can be sharp and travel in waves down your leg. Since any type of nerve pain is especially concerning, you need to be evaluated by a doctor to be certain of the diagnosis. More serious conditions can also cause sciatica, such as a herniated disc, which can also occur from lifting heavy weights or improper lifting.
Imaging tests can rule out problems with your spine, such as a disc herniation. Once it has been established that the problem is piriformis syndrome, your doctor will likely prescribe medications to minimize pain and will recommend that you see a physical therapist. In some cases, a short course of prescription pain medication can be prescribed, or your doctor might recommend you use over-the-counter pain medications. Muscle relaxers can also help temporarily reduce the muscle tightness that is responsible for compressing the sciatic nerve.
Rest And Recover
Rest is an important part of your recovery, especially during the days or weeks following the development of piriformis syndrome. If possible, take a few days off from training until most of the pain has subsided. You might be able to slowly reintroduce some training by avoiding activities that trigger sciatica. Since squatting is the movement that often triggers sciatica, you might choose to skip the exercise altogether or work with significantly lighter weights to see if you can tolerate them. Other simple activities might also cause pain, such as sitting or climbing the stairs. Try to avoid sitting for long periods, and sitting on a pillow or cushion might alleviate pressure.
During your recovery period, you might find certain at-home treatments help ease your pain. Moist heat from a hot water bottle or bath can help relax tight muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve and reduce pain. Try applying heat several times throughout the day, especially if you plan to return to light workouts. Heat before a workout can be used similar to pre-workout stretching to help loosen the affected muscles. Ice post-workout might be helpful to alleviate soreness, inflammation, and any swelling.
Integrate Physical Therapy
During the rest and recovery phase, you should see a physical therapist for injury treatment. You might also prefer to speak with a physical therapist who specializes in working with strength athletes since their needs are different. Not only is it important for strength athletes to recover from piriformis syndrome, but they might also need extra coaching, such as recommendations to change their form during an exercise to prevent recurrence of piriformis syndrome.
Your physical therapist will likely recommend a stretching routine. Stretching regularly, especially before you engage in training, can minimize the amount of compression on your sciatic nerve. Some stretching exercises your physical therapist might recommend include lying on your back and bringing your knees to your chest. You can try this stretch by bringing a single knee toward your chest and eventually bringing both knees up simultaneously. In the beginning, you might feel tightness in your lower back and buttocks well before your knee reaches your chest. Over time, you should be able to bring your knees closer with less tightness and pain.
Piriformis syndrome is not a common cause of sciatica, but can be more prevalent in strength athletes. Having the problem diagnosed and learning exercises to reduce muscle tightness can reduce or eliminate pain.