The piriformis is a flat, pear-shaped muscle deep within the buttocks and hips. It can easily become tight, and people can relieve tension by performing stretches while sitting or lying on their back.

A person performing a seated piriformis stretch.Share on Pinterest
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This large muscle runs from the lower spine through the glutes to the top of the thighs. It plays an important role in stabilizing the hip joint and rotating the thigh outward, making it essential for daily living and recreational activities.

The sciatic nerve runs crosswise through the piriformis muscle. So if the piriformis becomes tight, it can irritate the nerve and cause pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. People refer to this pain as sciatica. The underlying issue may be a type of sciatic nerve entrapment called piriformis syndrome.

Therefore, it is important to stretch the piriformis muscle to alleviate discomfort and improve mobility.

A person experiencing issues with their piriformis muscle should consider consulting a physical therapist. For those who would like to perform self-care, this article discusses how to stretch the piriformis muscle and how often to do so.

Prolonged hip flexion, such as spending a considerable amount of time sitting in a chair, puts strain on the lower back and tightens the hips. If a person sits for extended periods, they can perform sitting stretches on a chair or the floor to counteract the negative effects.

Sitting piriformis stretch from a chair

  1. Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the ground.
  2. Lift the right ankle and place it over the left knee.
  3. Next, flex the right foot by bringing the toes toward the shin and sit up tall and straight.
  4. Keep the spine straight, and bend the chest forward toward the knees.
  5. Bend far enough forward to feel the stretch but no discomfort.
  6. Hold.
  7. Release the stretch and perform with the other leg.

Sitting piriformis stretch on the floor

  1. Sit upright on the floor with both legs extended in front. Distribute weight evenly on the seat bones.
  2. Bend the right knee and cross the right foot over the left leg, placing it next to the left knee.
  3. Extend the left arm past the outside of the bent right leg. Place the right hand on the floor behind the buttocks to maintain the position.
  4. Feel the stretch inside the hip and check that both seat bones remain on the floor and hold.
  5. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side.

Pigeon pose

  1. Begin on hands and knees.
  2. Lift and bend the hip, bringing the left leg forward, bending at the knee, and resting the outside of the lower leg and foot on the floor. ​​The knee should be in line with the hip joint.
  3. Place both hands on the floor in front of the bent left leg.
  4. Extend the right leg back until it is straight out behind. If this is not possible, keep the back leg bent.
  5. Lower the upper body until the weight is on the forearms and the stretch can be felt in the hips.
  6. Hold and repeat on the other side.

Performing stretches while lying on the back is an effective way to stretch the piriformis, as gravity helps increase the hip and leg muscles’ range of motion. It also promotes relaxation.

Knees to the side

  1. Lie on the back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Stretch the arms out straight on the floor at shoulder level.
  3. Place the right foot on the left knee.
  4. Drop both knees to the left side.
  5. Hold.
  6. Gently return to neutral and repeat on the other side.

Lying piriformis stretch

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Put the right ankle over the left knee.
  3. Grasp the left leg and gently pull toward the chest.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Alternative lying piriformis stretch

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent and feet flat.
  2. Grasp the right leg with both hands.
  3. Gently pull the leg toward the chest, aiming to match the foot to the left hip bone.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

There are no specific recommendations on how often to stretch the piriformis muscle. It may also depend on how tight the muscle is, how active a person is, and how much time they spend sitting.

Research suggests that 30 seconds is the optimal time to hold stretches.

Generally, stretching every day for 10–15 minutes can help increase flexibility and range of motion. People may also find stretching before and after physical activity beneficial.

A person should listen to their body and not overstretch or push too hard, as this can lead to injury. They should stop if they experience any sharp pain or discomfort and, if necessary, speak with a physical therapist or doctor if they have any concerns.

In most cases, stretching and increasing flexibility in the piriformis muscle can help alleviate discomfort.

However, if a person experiences sharp pain, increased tightness, or sciatica when stretching the piriformis, they should contact a doctor or physical therapist for further advice.

Additionally, people who experience persistent hip pain that does not get better with stretching should speak with a doctor. This could be a sign of an underlying condition.

The piriformis can become tight due to sitting for long periods or being overworked due to repetitive motions. Stretching the piriformis muscle can help to alleviate discomfort and prevent further tightness.

To stretch the piriformis, people can perform sitting or lying stretches.

If a person experiences sharp pain or increased tightness when stretching the piriformis, they should contact a doctor or physical therapist for further advice.