Piriformis - an unusual form of sciatica

by Veronica

Only 10% of the population have their sciatic nerve pass through their piriformis and unluckily for me, this year I have discovered that I am one of them.

I'll never call someone "a pain in the butt" ever again. Because, .... I have one. I've been quiet lately, but I am mending slowly.

What is the Piriformis?

The Piriformis is a large flat muscle which lies underneath our Gluteus Maximus muscle- our backside, butt whatever we call it. Its function is to assist in rotating out and in so if we rotate our thigh out or cross our legs, the piriformis comes into use.
When the Piriformis is strained or damaged it causes crippling pain similar to sciatica, down the backside, down the leg and causes a numbness in the foot.
In January, suddenly for no apparent reason, the root of the nerves in my spine became inflamed. As if this wasn't bad enough, when the nerves became inflamed, in response my piriformis tightened in spasm. It's nearly July and I am still recovering but I am on the mend.
As you may expect from me... I get on with things and help myself to heal.

How have I got this far? Read on.

The start

Each doctor has asked me how it started. One Sunday night at the end of January, I was speaking on the phone, sitting on my bed and talking to my son. My husband was on the downstairs phone- 3-way conversation. I leapt off the bed, yelling in pain. I had cramp down my right leg and butt cheek. It went away though but of course everyone thought it was funny. It eased but came back during the night and next morning I was unable to walk and screaming in pain. 

I took painkillers and could manage but soon the painkillers weren't enough. 

The first doctor I saw said I had sciatica and gave me medication.

Amitriptyline (2 at night) 

Co-codamol (2 every 4 hours) 

Diclofenac (2 every 4 hours) 

Omeprazole (1 each morning) to protect my gut from the above medicines. 

It worked out I was taking 19 tablets a day by February 2019. 

And I was still up in the night, desperately watching the clock and waiting for the next pain relief. 

The tablets upset my diet and I gained nearly half a stone (6 lbs) because of my medication and not moving. 

By the end of February, I hadn't had a full night's sleep since the end of January and so the 2nd doctor ADDED two sleeping tablets to the above medications.  21 tablets a day.

He told me that in some people the sciatica nerve runs through or very close to the piriformis and that I had piriformis sciatica as opposed to sciatica. This is partly a good thing as usually sciatica is caused by spinal discs bulging or slipped. Mine was inflamed nerves and affecting my butt and leg. 

The medications made me feel terrible. So, I knew I had to do something myself, get better and get myself off these awful meds. 

If your sciatica starts in your butt cheek then you have PIRIFORMIS not the usual sciatica. 

 

How did I manage my Piriformis ?

I wanted to write this because at times I wanted my life to end. JUST END. The pain was so bad.

This is not a medical journal; it is a self-help guide and how you can cope. I don't want anyone to go through what I have done recently. I had never heard of Piriformis. 

Feb 17th 2019

The final straw for me was needing a wheel chair when I couldn't walk on my husband's birthday day out. That was it! No More! I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself. Never again will I have a wheelchair until I really need one. 

Step 1 …. take your medication and keep moving as much as possible. 

Step 2 …. The next thing I did was to get Physical/ Physio therapy. My therapist was excellent. I was fortunate enough to find a therapist who was a specialist in lower back problems. This is very important. I had a total of 5 sessions where she physically stretched my back and butt. 

Step 3 …. I bought a TENS pain relief machine.  This is a useful little machine which places electrode pads between the pain and the brain. This blocks the signal so we don't know we are in pain and also increases the body's natural pain killers, endorphins.  I used it to bits and am on my second one. I use it at bed time for half an hour each night and then do my exercises.

pain relief machine

pain machine
pain machine

HEAT PADS

STEP 4

I tried a wheaty bag which I placed in the micro wave oven to heat it. This only stays hot for a short while. Then I tried some Deep Heat Patches which work for 8 hours, heat to the affected area. These were much better as they stick in place and keep hot for 8 hours. 

Then …. I discovered "Curaheat" patches which are pictured here. These patches don't go on skin. They go on clothes and stay hot for 12 hours! Then, after 12 hours, I remove them and the area still stays hot for 12 hours when another patch is stuck on. Constant heat 24 hours a day.

Curaheat patches have been the turning point for me over the last 2 weeks. I am completely off painkillers since I started using them and am sleeping better too. 

My salvation

my heatpads
my heatpads

Summary

If your sciatica originates in your butt, the chances are you have PIRIFORMIS syndrome. 

I have had it for 5 months now and I am just about getting better although I am walking with a pronounced limp. 

The things which have helped me are;-

  • Physiotherapy,
  • doing exercises at home, prescribed by my physiotherapist
  • my TENS machine and best of all
  • Curaheat patches. 

This is embarrassing to write about but if it helps one person to handle their symptoms then it is worth it. I hope you never get Piriformis but if you do, please know it takes time, but you will get there eventually. 

I am recovering now 5 months on. 

Updated: 06/29/2019, Veronica
 
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Comments

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frankbeswick on 08/25/2019

I have my medical appointment,in mid September. Hopefully, the therapist will be able to treat my problem.

Veronica on 08/24/2019

Doctors aren't very good on backs, in my opinion .

frankbeswick on 08/11/2019

I asked the doctor about my wearing it. She thought that it might do good and would do no harm.

Veronica on 08/11/2019

you need physiotherapy before you start wearing something like that. You may be doing more harm than good.

frankbeswick on 08/11/2019

I don't know whether this would work for you, but I have taken to wearing a lumbar support belt.My back is feeling better and it helps my posture.

Veronica on 08/11/2019

6 months on and I am still not completely recovered. I used my pain machine this morning but have not had any pain relief medication for weeks now . It takes time but keep at it.

Veronica on 07/01/2019

If it is caused by a bulging lower spinal disc, it is easy to diagnose the cause. However, my spine is in perfect condition and there are no problems with it. For some unknown reason, the nerves in my lower spine suddenly became inflamed and this made my Piriformis tighten in response. There is no obvious cause.

5 months later, I am recovering. I am walking for about 25/ 30 minutes now and I am back dancing on a Monday ( tonight ) and I can mange about 40 minutes of the class.

As always thank you for your constant thoughtfulness of everyone in our community.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/01/2019

Veronica, Thank you for sharing practicalities and products. Please accept my meditations and prayers for complete recovery.
Do doctors know why piriformal sciatica expressed itself when it did? Is it the way you were sitting or (despite the fact that the context sounds pleasant of interactions with those you love and who love you) some kind of stress?

Veronica on 06/30/2019

Ty for your kind words. Yes stretching is key to good health. I now stretch my Piriformis at least twice daily. The Physio therapist reckoned that at worst, we should stretch our Piriformis 6 or 7 times a day.

Keep stretching.

dustytoes on 06/30/2019

Veronica I am so sorry to hear of your struggle with this painful condition! What relief that you are getting better... finally. At least the pain of childbirth doesn't last 5 months! It's very kind of you to share your story here to help others. I have never heard of Piriformis either. I try to do yoga type stretches every day to stay limber (as possible as that is in your 60's) because stretching is good for all kinds of things. This just reinforces my thinking.
Good to hear from you. I have missed you at Wizzley. Keep on with that recovery.


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