Your piriformis is a small muscle located beneath your glutes that helps to rotate and stabilize your hips. When this muscle gets tight, overused, or irritated, it can put pressure on your sciatic nerve and cause a condition called piriformis syndrome.

Massaging or stretching your piriformis may help reduce tension in this muscle and ease symptoms of piriformis syndrome.

In this article, we’ll look at different ways you can massage your piriformis muscle in the comfort of your home using a foam roller or a ball. We’ll also share several stretches you can do to help reduce piriformis syndrome symptoms.

Piriformis syndrome is when your piriformis muscle puts pressure on your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It runs from your spine, through your hip, and down the back of your leg.

The pressure caused by your piriformis muscle can lead to symptoms of a condition known as sciatica.

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • numbness or tingling in your buttocks and the back of your leg
  • burning or shooting pain in your buttocks and the back of your leg
  • pain that gets worse with physical activity
  • pain that gets worse during prolonged sitting

Piriformis syndrome is estimated to be responsible for anywhere from 0.3 to 6 percent of cases of lower back pain or sciatica. It tends to be more common in women and in middle-aged adults.

It’s thought that overuse, injury, or tightness of your piriformis can cause piriformis syndrome. Having one leg longer than the other may also be a contributing factor.

Massaging your piriformis muscle can help ease tension and tightness in this muscle which, in turn, may reduce the pain and discomfort caused by piriformis syndrome.

You can massage your piriformis muscle at home using a foam roller or a ball about the size of a tennis ball. Using a soft ball provides a gentle massage, whereas a harder ball makes the massage more intense.

Ideally, the massage should be slightly uncomfortable but shouldn’t be agonizingly painful. If you feel intense pain, decrease the pressure by shifting your bodyweight or by using a softer object.

It’s always better to be too gentle than too intense. If you apply too much pressure, you risk irritating the muscle and worsening your symptoms.

If you notice a worsening of your piriformis syndrome symptoms, stop the massage right away.

Let’s look at three simple self-massage techniques you can use to help loosen up your piriformis muscle.

1. Foam roller massage

If it’s your first time massaging your piriformis, it’s a good idea to start off with a foam roller to see how your body reacts.

A smooth foam roller has a large surface area that provides a relatively gentle massage compared to a ball.

Rollers with textured surfaces generally provide a deeper massage and more pinpointed massage than smooth rollers.

How to do the massage:

  1. Sit on a foam roller so that the ends are pointing away from your sides. Start with your feet flat on the floor in front of you and your hands supporting your weight behind you.
  2. Cross an ankle over your opposite knee and lean to the side so that the bulk of your weight is on the hip of your crossed leg.
  3. Rock back and forth on the roller until you feel your discomfort subside.
  4. Continue for up to 60 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

2. Tennis ball (or similar ball) massage

A tennis ball or another similar-sized ball provides a more pinpointed massage compared to a foam roller. Its smaller size allows you to put more pressure on your piriformis than on the surrounding tissue.

It’s a good idea to start with a soft ball like a tennis ball before trying a harder ball like a lacrosse ball.

How to do the massage:

  1. Sit on the ground and put the ball under the side of your left hip. Support your weight behind you with your hands.
  2. Cross your left ankle over your opposite knee.
  3. Roll around on the ball until you find an area of discomfort. Continue rolling over this area for up to a minute or until the discomfort subsides.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

3. Sitting on a ball

Sitting with a ball under your hip provides a gentler massage than rolling because it’s easier to control the amount of pressure.

How to do the massage:

  1. Sit with a tennis ball or other similar-sized ball under your hip. You can perform this massage either on the ground or in a seat.
  2. You can keep your legs straight, or you can bend your leg on the side with the ball under your hip so that the sole of your foot is against your opposite thigh.
  3. Gently push down until you feel some discomfort. Return to the starting position. You can repeat again on the same side until you feel less discomfort in the tender area.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

As with self-massage, stretching your piriformis regularly may also help loosen up the muscle and reduce your sciatica symptoms.

Start slowly and be gentle. Stretching too far or too intensely could worsen your symptoms. As your symptoms start to ease, you can try to gently deepen the stretches.

If you feel a sudden worsening of your symptoms, stop immediately.

1. Pretzel stretch

The pretzel stretch can help you stretch out your piriformis and the other external rotator muscles in your hip.

How to do the stretch:

  1. Lie face up on a mat or other soft surface.
  2. Cross one of your ankles over your opposite thigh.
  3. Pull your knee to your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your hip.
  4. Hold for at least 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.

2. Knee-to-chest piriformis stretch

This stretch helps you work on your piriformis muscle and also targets the muscles of your outer hip. If you feel any discomfort in your knee during the stretch, stop immediately.

How to do the stretch:

  1. Lie face up on a mat or other soft surface.
  2. Pull one of your knees to your chest while keeping the other straight.
  3. Bend your foot toward your opposite hip and hold for about 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

3. Seated twist

The seated twist stretch helps you loosen the muscles in the outer part of your hip as well as your core.

How to do the stretch:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs in front of you.
  2. Bend your left leg so that your shin is lying horizontally on the ground in front of you. Place your right foot behind your left knee.
  3. Tuck your left elbow in front of your right knee and gently push down on the outer side of your knee.
  4. Hold for at least 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.

There’s no clear consensus on what the best treatment is for piriformis syndrome. You may find that in addition to self-massage and regular stretches, the following may help you manage or ease your symptoms:

  • Take frequent breaks from long periods of sitting.
  • Alternate using heat and ice on the tender area. Use each type of therapy for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin to help manage pain.
  • If your symptoms don’t get better, consider seeing a physical therapist. They can help build a customized rehabilitation program for you with targeted stretches and exercises.

Massaging your piriformis muscle may help ease your piriformis syndrome symptoms. Regular self-massage and stretches can help loosen the muscle and reduce pressure on your sciatic nerve. You can use a foam roller, tennis ball, or another similar-sized ball.

Massaging your piriformis muscle at home is generally safe, especially if you start gently and slowly. If you notice a worsening of your symptoms, stop immediately.

If your symptoms don’t get better with time, consider following up with your doctor or a physical therapist.