Most of us have had a job where we’ve had to sit in an uncomfortable position for a long time. Call centers and administrative jobs are demanding longer and longer hours in cramped seating positions with shoddy chairs and ineffectual lumbar support.
Plus, with the rise of computer gaming, people are spending more of their lives sitting in front of their consoles.
Needless to say, pre-existing medical conditions can be extremely exacerbated by our sitting habits, resulting in hours and hours of intense debilitating pain that can make your daily life feel like hell.
Piriformis Syndrome is a condition you might not have heard of, but many people suffer from it.
It affects the piriformis muscle, a meaty piece of tissue that stretches across the buttock, causing spasms due to increased compression, usually during sitting. This can be incredibly discomfiting and painful, resulting in loss of mobility and a significant drop in mood.
Is there a way to alleviate piriformis syndrome while sitting, allowing you to get on with your work and home life pain-free?
In short, yes. Look, we understand that it may not always be possible to walk about your office workplace, so we’re going to provide you with some indispensable sitting techniques along with a few other helpful methods that should go some way to alleviating piriformis syndrome.
So, grab a cushioned lumbar seat, sit firmly back, and first read our handy guide to piriformis syndrome, what it is and how it affects us.
What Is Piriformis Syndrome?
The piriformis muscle is located just underneath the hip, near the buttock region, and helps to stabilize the hip joint.
The exact cause of piriformis syndrome is unknown, although it is believed that it is caused either through overexertion or inactivity.
Sufferers experience numbness in the buttocks or a dull pain in the back of the legs, with a decreased range of motion in the thighs. It can make even simple tasks like walking up the stairs or sitting down incredibly uncomfortable.
There are a few different things that exacerbate piriformis syndrome, such as an accident or a sports injury.
However, one of the more common causes of piriformis syndrome is prolonged sitting.
How Can Sitting Affect Piriformis Syndrome?
As soon as you sit down, your posterior regions - that is, the glutes and hamstrings - are immediately closed down, receiving very little blood as circulation is restricted. Your metabolism also decreases and digestion slows.
As you sit, your body starts to adapt: your shoulders round, your back begins to flex and your hips lock into that flexed position. This can lead to other common injuries such as neck pain and sciatica.
Prolonged sitting can negatively affect joint alignment and muscle integrity, increasing the risk of inflammation around the nerves as they are pinched between bones.
Piriformis syndrome is undeniably caused by inactivity, and it is important to develop mindfulness around posture and how sitting affects the body, while also having a routine that keeps these muscles active to prevent long-lasting damage.
How To Sit Comfortably With Piriformis Syndrome
Sitting for hours at a time is not generally recommended for maintaining physical health, as it can lead to cramping, muscle atrophy and in some cases, circulation problems such as deep vein thrombosis.
However, we understand that it is not always possible to do a lot of vigorous exercises in the workplace.
But even when simply sitting or standing in the office, you can still be mindful about posture and you can even make small changes that will make the difference with conditions like piriformis syndrome.
Untuck Your Pelvis
People with piriformis syndrome can have an overly forward-extended pelvis, where their buttocks are a lot tighter than usual. This forces the legs more forward and makes us balance on the outer edges of our feet.
When we walk like this our piriformis is in a constant external rotation. While rotation is natural for the piriformis, this should not be constant.
If our butts are continually tucked in, then the piriformis is not allowed to stretch out fully. Instead it contracts, experiencing reduced blood flow, which ultimately can lead to piriformis syndrome.
Do you find yourself getting calluses on certain areas of your foot? Do your shoes wear out on the outer edges?
Again, these could be further signs of a tighter piriformis and piriformis syndrome.
Ideally, calluses should develop on the triangle that makes up the ball and the spaces under the biggest and smallest toe. This shows that the body balances its weight evenly across the foot and the muscles in the calf and thigh are working in tandem.
Try walking with your usual gait. If you find yourself placing undue emphasis on the outer sides of your feet, change it by engaging with the inner thigh and relaxing the buttocks. Ideally, you should be engaging every part of the foot with each step.
Ergonomic chairs are shaped specifically to support pressure around the spine and lower femur muscles, with some chairs emulating that flowing movement usually experienced when walking.
Many things need to be considered when purchasing an ergonomic chair, including seat height, backrest height, sufficient lumbar support, the ratio of the backrest to the armrest, seat width and how it cushions your buttocks.
Your seat width is just as important as your seat height, as a chair that doesn’t allow you adequate sitting space is going to cause you significant discomfort in the short-term, especially if you’re gaming.
You will want to invest in an ergonomic seat cushion, which alleviates the pressure on the tailbone and cushions the buttocks, relieving your posterior of the load that it has to bear from your torso.
Some cushions also have a concave base allowing you a surface of continual movement, which increases blood flow to the area, as well as keeping the joints flexible.
How You Can Manage Your Piriformis Syndrome
If your piriformis syndrome is chronic and has been aggravated over a long period of sitting and crossing your legs, you’ll probably have to do several exercises outside of the workplace.
Luckily, there are some specific stretches that you can do to help activate the piriformis muscle and prevent it from atrophying. Below are just a few you can try out at home!
- Lie flat on your back with both knees bent.
- Take the affected leg and cross it over the other, with the knee out to the side.
- Clasp both hands over the underside of the unaffected knee.
- Pull until you can feel the affected buttock stretching.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Place yourself in a seated position. Ideally, you would do this on a hard floor, but you can use a softer surface if you’re in acute pain.
- Bend the knee of the affected leg and cross it over the unaffected leg.
- Wrap your arms around the unaffected knee and pull it towards your chest until you can feel the affected buttock stretching.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
These stretches are a great way to loosen up the piriformis muscle and get the blood circulating in those areas.
Tennis Ball Exercises
Often applying direct pressure to the muscle will send a signal to the brain to relax that particular area. This has been demonstrated in yoga and massages for generations. People who have had gluteal massages might have experienced the masseuse placing an elbow in your buttcheek for a prolonged period. Well, this exercise operates on that same principle!
For these next exercises, you might need to buy a tennis ball if you don’t have one lying around the house.
- Take a firm floor, possibly a hard surface, but ideally something with some padding, such as a gym mat.
- Place the tennis ball on the floor.
- Squat over the ball, trying your best to roll the tennis ball under the area on your buttock where it hurts the most.
- Press your body weight into it firmly, rolling it gently over the affected area.
- Do this for 2-3 minutes.
- You should feel an increased numbness or pain, but it should not exceed a mild amount.
Further Options To Alleviate Pain
If the above exercises do not relieve you of continual pain in the piriformis, then you might want to book yourself an appointment to see a physical therapist who can give you a deep-tissue or sports massage.
Remember: a qualified physical therapist will be able to better diagnose you and recommend the appropriate therapy. A lot of people could potentially diagnose themselves with piriformis syndrome when they don’t necessarily have it.
Light yoga is essentially just a more elaborate version of the exercises described above, except that it understands that the piriformis is simply one muscle in an entire system of muscles, bones, tendons and nerves. To get these to function properly, you will need to keep all of them active regularly.
However, if your piriformis syndrome is severe, this might be too active and could aggravate that particular area. Consult with your doctor or yoga instructor first before attempting more complex stretches.