Tension in the piriformis muscle can trigger irritation of surrounding tissues. The sciatic nerve exits the pelvis just below the piriformis. When there is dysfunction in the lumbar/pelvic/hip complex, the piriformis often gets overworked, creating compression and friction on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is defined as aching, burning, stinging pain along the distribution of the sciatic nerve: buttock, back of the thigh, lower leg and foot.

Stretching the piriformis can be a very effective way of diminishing the compression, and therefore irritation of the nerve. Pictured above is a very common stretch given as treatment to relieve sciatica.

Piriformis Stretch Refined

A traditional piriformis stretch, is often done with a tucked pelvis (and/or flexed spine) and can irritate the nerve if the leg is pulled too aggressively.  Instead, using the wall and props can be an effective way of maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. By staying in alignment, and by being able to adjust the load by gradually bending the knee to 90 degrees, the tissues will begin to yield and let go, rather than work to hold the body in position.
Picture on the left: The half cylinder and block supports my shoulders and head to allow me to rest with a neutral spine, with my ribs down and a level pelvis.  Due to my current tension patterns, I also have to support my lumbar area with a rolled yoga mat so I can comfortably attain neutral pelvis (pubis and ASIS level).

Middle picture:  I place my left leg straight on the wall and cross my right leg over the left, making sure not to tilt the pelvis.

Picture on the right:  I begin to slide my heel down the wall and stop when I feel that I am at my resistance barrier, or my pelvis begins to shift.  Hold at least one minute and repeat on the other side.  If you can tolerate the stretch stay longer, up to 5 minutes on each side.

Some people will try to get a deeper stretch by pressing the right knee down.  Make sure that you don’t drag your whole pelvis when you do that (as shown in the pic on the left).  The purpose of this refinement is to maintain neutral, and that means a level pelvis (as shown on the right).
Even if you don’t have sciatica, this is a wonderful stretch to open the hips, and allow more freedom to your pelvis!

 

Information and images taken from http://www.alignintegrationandmovement.com