The difference between piriformis syndrome and sciatica

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The difference between piriformis syndrome and sciatica

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

The pain associated with sciatica can be intermittent or constant, but it often feels like a sharp pain shooting into the leg from the lower back. FILE PHOTO | SWIMMING POOL

There are differences between piriformis syndrome and sciatica, although the symptoms are similar.

The reason for their similarity lies in the fact that the piriformis muscle can irritate or compress the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain similar to sciatic pain caused by other conditions such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. A medical evaluation is usually required to determine the specific diagnosis.

What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that branches in the lower back. It runs through every hip and buttock and over the thigh and leg to the foot. When the sciatic nerve is compressed, inflamed, irritated, or injured, the pain often radiates down the nerve. The pain arises in the lower spine (lumbar spine) where the nerve begins.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a set of symptoms that occur when the sciatic nerve is irritated, compressed, or inflamed. It is usually caused by the compression or the impact of nerve roots due to degeneration of the spine. The degeneration can be due to conditions including, but not limited to: herniated disc, protruding disc, bone spur, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the vertebral canal), tumor, spondylolisthesis, spinal injury, and infection.

The pain felt depends on the specific nerve root that is affected. It can be intermittent or constant, but it often feels like a sharp pain shooting into the leg from the lower back. Other symptoms include weakness in the leg and foot, numbness or tingling in the back of the leg.


Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle is located in each buttock and attaches the sacrum to the top of the thigh bone. The piriformis muscle and the sciatic nerve are close together.

Sciatic nerve pain may begin due to the contractions or spasms of the piriformis muscle. When the muscle contracts, cramps, or has other problems, it can compress or irritate the sciatic nerve. The pain associated with piriformis syndrome is typically felt more in the buttocks and hips.


The main differences between sciatica and piriformis syndrome are: Where the pain is typically felt – buttocks and hips in piriformis syndrome, while leg pain in sciatica can extend to the toes.

WHAT CAUSES THE PAIN The piriformis muscle causes the pain by affecting the sciatic nerve in piriformis syndrome, while sciatic pain is a symptom of a specific medical condition that causes a range of symptoms. What Causes More Pain – Pain increases when sitting for long periods of time in piriformis syndrome, while raising the leg (the affected one) while lying down, can cause pain with sciatica.


Rest, ice, and heat can help relieve symptoms. A doctor or physical therapist may suggest a program of exercise and stretching, as well as traction, to reduce compression of the sciatic nerve. Osteopathic manipulative treatment has been used to relieve pain and increase freedom of movement.

Ms. Yusa is a physiotherapist at Karen C&P Clinic.