This post will show you how to effectively release the piriformis muscle with both stretching and self-myofascial release. To make sure you’re not irritating this muscle further and not creating more hip imbalances, please read through the full post and follow the techniques.
The first step is to figure out if the piriformis needs to be stretched or not. If the muscle is weak and already elongated, you shouldn’t be stretching it, even if it “feels” tight.
Static stretching relaxes the muscle and helps increase joint range of motion. So it certainly has its place in your recovery plan. But it should only be used when needed to restore a muscle to its normal length (not make it longer than it should be). The goal is to maintain proper muscle tension.
This piriformis syndrome guide will take you through assessment exercises to figure out if the piriformis is indeed tight and short (and needs stretching), or weak and long (and does not need stretching)…
… If the muscle doesn’t need stretching you can still release the glute tightness with the massage ball as I explain below (I’ll link to the one I personally use). The link will open up in a new tab so you can read through this post first. I’ll also link to the guide at the end of this post for your reference.
How Static Stretching Works
Static stretching is a lengthening technique used to relax and decrease the overactivity of a muscle. Static stretching increases range of motion allowing the joint to move. When a joint is free to move, the muscles that move that joint are also free to move it.
To get the most out of static stretching, you want to hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. Individuals over 65 years old get better results holding each stretch for up to 60 seconds.
How to Effectively Release The Piriformis Muscle
I’ve personally suffered from piriformis syndrome for years before restoring my hips and feeling ‘normal’ again. I’ve done all the typical stretches found online. I was constantly searching (just like you)… Looking for that magic stretch that’d fix it for good.
This is why I don’t want to just throw a bunch of stretches at you without explaining how they work and when to use them. It’s not that the stretches are bad or don’t work, but when used mindlessly, they can contribute to more weakness and pain. This is why I always start by self-myofascial release before stretching.
Massaging The Piriformis Muscle
Full disclosure: this post contains Amazon affiliate links. I only mention products I personally use and recommend…and if you purchase from Amazon using my affiliate link, I get a small commission. You won’t pay more!
The best way to release the piriformis (in my opinion) is by using a massage ball first. You can control the pressure and easily move around to release the gluteus medius and TFL as well. If you’re in a lot of pain right now, use the massage ball instead of a foam roller. The video tutorial below will show you how to do it…
Self Myofascial Release Using A Massage Ball
9 Stretches To Release The Piriformis And Hips
Stretching should always come after self-myofascial release. This is because you want to release any active or latent trigger points before elongating the muscle. Trigger points don’t get released through stretching (think of it like creating a knot using an elastic band and then stretching that band out). Below the video, I’ll explain when to use each stretch.
Sitting Piriformis Stretch
This stretch targets the piriformis muscle and can be done at home or when you’re sitting and can’t stand. However, make sure you’ve identified piriformis tightness before doing this stretch.
90/90 Hip Stretch
This is my favorite glutes stretch. It is safe, gentle and not very aggressive. You can use this stretch after you release the hip flexors. It targets the gluteus medius, piriformis and gluteus maximus.
This is an advanced version of the 90/90 stretch. I recommend you slowly ease into this one. If you’re feeling pain after this stretch, skip it altogether. There are other ways to release your hips without triggering pain.
Gluteus Maximus And Piriformis Stretch
This stretch targets the piriformis muscle and the gluteus maximus. You can control the intensity by bringing your torso closer to your legs for a deeper stretch or away for a more gentle stretch.
Supine Piriformis Stretch
This is another great piriformis stretch you can do lying down on your back. You can increase the intensity of this stretch by pushing against the knee of the hip being stretched (as demonstrated).
Erector Spinae / Gluteus Medius Stretch
If you have an anterior pelvic tilt, this stretch will help you restore your hips by stretching the erector spinae. An overactive erector spinae contributes to an exaggerated lower back arch and pulls the pelvis out of alignment.
This is a great stretch to open up your hips and release the inner thighs as well. Only use this stretch when not in pain.
Sitting Hip Crossovers
This stretch targets the glute muscles and helps increase joint range of motion. You can increase the intensity of the stretch by pushing against the upper knee.
Hip Flexors Stretch
I recommend you release your hip flexors on a daily basis. Especially if you spend hours sitting and driving. I have a step-by-step post on releasing the hip flexors here.
Do All Muscles Need Stretching?
Not all muscles respond the same way to stretching (this is important). The same static stretching program can be applied to two different muscles and results won’t be the same. Certain muscles don’t respond favorably to static stretching, showing no increase in range of motion(1).
Muscles work in a synergistic manner to maintain proper posture and movement patterns:
Tonic muscles: made of at least 51% slow-twitch muscle fibers and are more resistant to fatigue. When over-used or misused, these muscles tend to tighten and shorten. For example, the iliopsoas muscle (hip flexor).
Phasic muscles: made of at least 51% fast-twitch muscle fibers (explosive) and fatigue easily compared to the tonic muscles. They are prone to weakness when underused or misused. The glute muscles are primarily phasic muscles.
If you have extremely tight hip flexors (and you don’t know it) and keep stretching the glutes, you’ll be contributing to more hip weakness and imbalances. Even if it feels good at the moment, relief is temporary.
A more effective way of stretching is to simply test the muscles, if they don’t feel tight, don’t stretch them. You can click here to learn more about when stretching doesn’t work or makes the pain worse.
Recommended Program: Piriformis Control
Hey! My name is Sofia and I’m here to help you eliminate lower back pain and piriformis syndrome without spending years in pain stuck in temporary fixes. Click here to learn more about me and how I can help you…