Piriformis Self-Massage (Without Making The Pain Worse)

When I was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, self-massage was part of my daily routine. In fact, I remember foam rolling the piriformis daily. Sadly, I was still in a lot of pain.

If you’re not getting positive results from your piriformis self-massage, please follow the tips in this post.

I’ll include important instructions to follow to make sure you do it right. I’m thankful I have personal experience with this too so I’ll be including the mistakes to avoid as well.

This post will also include my favorite deep tissue release tools I’ve been using for the past years, how to use them, the frequency, and also when to schedule activation exercises.

I want this post to be as helpful as possible so we’ll be covering a lot of material. Make sure to save this post as well to review later.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Treating piriformis syndrome at home (what you need to know first)
  • How self-massage works to release tight muscles
  • 5 piriformis muscle release, self-massage, tools
  • Piriformis self-massage release technique
  • Frequency of self-massage
  • When to implement stretching into your routine
  • When to do strengthening exercises
  • My thoughts on yoga for piriformis relief

I created a full video for this post if you prefer to watch it. Please scroll down to find it…

Treating Piriformis Syndrome At Home

Before we get to the self-massage tools, make sure that you know which muscles you need to work on (besides the piriformis). 

This piriformis syndrome guide has a simple assessment you can start with. And I also encourage you to check out my program Piriformis Control where I show you step-by-step how to assess for muscular imbalances at home.

This will show you the underlying muscular imbalances that can be the root cause of the recurring pain.

Make sure to also re-assess every two or three weeks to monitor your progress.

An assessment is an effective tool to measure your progress. It gives you feedback. Without assessing, you won’t know if what you’ve been working on for the past few weeks is producing any results.

Bad results or good results… we just don’t know. 

It’s important to track these things and have an assessment done. Regardless of whether you’re doing your own treatment or getting outside treatments. 

Full disclosure: this post contains 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!

Recommended Program: Piriformis Control Program.

How Self Massage Works

self-myofascial release, either by using a tool or having a therapist work on the muscle tissue, is a technique that is used to reduce the overactivity of neuro-myofascial tissues.

It also releases tension and allows the muscles to recover faster. There are many tools you can use to achieve this and we’ll go through them now.

5 Piriformis Muscle Release Self-Massage Tools 

How to relax the piriformis muscle with self-massage

Below I’ll list my favorite self massage tools that I’ve been using for the past years. And, how to use them. 

Foam roller

When starting out, and if you’ve never used a foam roller, pick a soft roller that doesn’t penetrate very deep into the soft tissue. You don’t want anything too rigid when starting out. This foam roller with a 5.5-inch diameter is a great size to start with. I still use it.

Foam rolling and massage ball for piriformis syndrome

You can progress to a more rigid roller that will get deeper into the tissue. This extra firm roller is what I’m looking to get next. 

Massage ball

Massage balls come in different sizes as well and are great to work on smaller muscles. They are easier to use since you can control the pressure and target muscles in isolation. I use this massage ball from Trigger Point.

They come in different sizes as well. I use the MB1 ball. The MBX is firmer and the 5 Inch MB5 ball is great for beginners. 

And if you don’t have a massage ball, you can use a tennis ball. The massage ball helps you get deep into the smaller hip, chest, and shoulder muscles so you can tap into those trigger points. This would be a little hard to do with a foam roller.

Handheld rollers

Self-massage sticks or handheld rollers are amazing tools that work a little differently than the regular foam rollers.

The great thing about these kinds of rollers is you fully control the amount of pressure you apply on the muscle.

In addition, if you have a hard time getting down on the floor or back up, this roller will work best for you.

You may be wondering how you can release the piriformis with a massage stick. Well, this particular massage stick has a special handle that mimics pressure applied by a massage therapist’s thumb. It’s pretty cool.

And you can also elevate your foot on a chair to elongate the piriformis and apply pressure directly on the glutes. What I love about the massage stick is that it also releases upper back muscles that the roller cannot get to. 

Acupressure Mat

I use the Spoonk mat frequently after my workouts to release tension from the hips and lower back.

This acupressure mat also relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow to those areas. I incorporate the acupressure mat release a little later in the day to relax. It helped me improve my sleep.

The Wheel

The last tool I want to share with you is the wheel.

And while this tool doesn’t work directly on the piriformis, it does an amazing job releasing those tight lower back muscles without putting any pressure on the spine.

You should never foam roll the lower back directly and press on the spine. But the wheel works differently…

…It only focuses on the deep lower back muscles such as the quadratus lumborum and has a space in the middle to avoid pressing on the spine. This way you can release your lower back muscles safely.

I use the wheel about twice a week after sitting for a long time and I really like it.

I use the Chirp Wheel and it’s high quality. I haven’t tried any other wheels so I can only recommend what I use. I have the medium size and here’s a photo of it’s size compared to my foam roller to give you an idea.

Here’s how I use it. You can also push through your feet up (into the bridge pose) and roll down the wheel to target the lower back.

Because the quadratus lumborum is attached to the hips, it can affect the piriformis as well. And a great way to release this small deep muscle is with the wheel (or also a massage ball)

Video Format Of This Post:

How To Manage Piriformis And Back Pain At Home!

Step 1: Relaxing The Overactive Muscles

Before you start applying pressure on the piriformis muscle. I recommend you actually start releasing the muscles around that area to reduce their overactivity.

Recommended Program: Piriformis Control Program.

This is extremely important if you get piriformis pain from hip flexion activities such as prolonged sitting, driving, biking, or even running. The hip flexors overactivity can drive the hips out of balance cause the piriformis muscle to compensate.

I wrote about this in detail inside this Complete Piriformis Release Guide (which includes a full video tutorial of both self-massage and stretching), but briefly, the main hip flexors you need to release are:

The psoas (the biggest hip flexor muscle). You can use the massage ball or the foam roller to relax this muscle.

The TFL… A muscle that performs multiple functions including hip flexion, abduction, and internal rotation. And because of that, it gets extremely tight. The roam roller works best to release this muscle but you can certainly do it with the self-massage stick as well.

The rectus femoris (quads), is another big hip flexor. You can easily release it with the roam roller or the handheld roller.

Complete Piriformis Muscle Release Guide (Includes stretching!)

Step 2: Piriformis Self-Massage Technique

After you tried the above releases, you should already be feeling some relief. Allow the piriformis to relax naturally first by focusing on the surrounding muscles and also getting enough sleep, magnesium, and sitting properly throughout the day.

If you feel nothing’s working, we can move to the next step and releasing the muscle itself. Deep tissue massage can certainly benefit the piriformis muscle. I highly recommend you follow the tutorial below where I use the massage ball

Quick Piriformis Release With Massage Ball

Tutorial instructions: Place the massage ball against the wall. Start by pressing against the glutes and work your way around the piriformis area.

Apply gentle pressure in the beginning, when you feel a tender spot that feels tense, apply a little bit more pressure (but not too much) and keep breathing. 

Keep this short. Don’t spend too much time pressing on the muscle as it can backfire. Just start with about 20 seconds and increase that time as needed.

How Many Times Should I Massage The Piriformis?

It is safe to foam roll on a daily basis. Consider it part of your maintenance.

If you spend hours sitting for work and you notice your hips tightening up because of prolonged sitting, make sure to integrate foam rolling as part of your maintenance.
The other way to avoid this would be to also alter the sitting position and avoid over tightness.

For example, you switch up to a stand-up desk and you spend less time sitting. But if we don’t fix the sitting position, the end result will always be over-tight hip flexors (which contributes to piriformis pain).

To restore hip balance. You’ll need to release added tightness after prolonged sitting.

Are you telling me I have to foam roll every day if I sit a lot?

Yes and here’s why… Let’s look at a simple activity such as brushing your teeth.

Why do you brush your teeth every day? You’ll probably respond with…well, they’re part of maintaining my teeth. And that is a very normal teeth-maintenance activity we do everything.

The same principle applies to maintain our muscular system, which we use on a daily basis (and sometimes even abuse with certain repetitive activities).

It’s normal to develop tightness and trigger points after prolonged sitting or any other repetitive daily movement. And maintenance should be just part of our daily activities to restore muscular balance. 

We can’t expect the body to function a hundred percent, all of the time, without doing any work. 

When To Implement Stretching

Stretching shouldn’t be used as the main tool to fix muscle pain. It should be used as part of the recovery, but never rely on it entirely. Keep in mind that stretching doesn’t release trigger points. Only the tools mentioned above can do that.

You have to apply direct and controlled pressure to release the trigger points.
Imagine the muscle as an elastic. If there is a knot in it, stretching the elastic out will not release the knot but only make it tighter actually. Elongating the elastic won’t get rid of those knots.

Stretching is a great way to improve flexibility and even improve some mobility. But it’s important to do deep tissue work before that.

Check if your hip flexors are very tight:

Bridge hip flexor stretch

The bridge exercise can show you how tight hip flexors can interfere with full glutes extension…

…As you push up into that extension, and you feel your hips are restricting you because they feel tight, that’s a good sign of overactive hip flexors. And you can see first-hand how tight hip flexors can get in the way of full glutes activation.

Don’t Forget About Strengthening.

We often get stuck in the cycle of foam rolling and stretching that we forget we need to also add stability. Strengthening should be part of your recovery. And I understand you may have fears about triggering pain or hurting your muscles…

…If you follow the process above and keep your exercises low impact and slow, you should be Okay.

I use resistance bands to activate the hip muscles. The benefit of using bands, besides the resistance they provide, is allowing you to do the exercises with proper form. Here’s a simple example of that…

…When squatting, sometimes the knees tend to move inwards causing a flattening of the feet. It’s hard to mindfully be aware of that. When you add the band around your thighs, you’ll automatically push your knees out. If you don’t…the band will fall down. So it provides you with that feedback to correct your form. 

How Many Times Should I Activate?

It’s recommended to have a rest day in between activation-focused days…especially if you’re new to it. A rest day where you get to pause and also see how your body is responding to the exercises you’ve done yesterday.

Finding relief is also about avoiding flare-ups and not doing too much all at once.
The body recovers and regenerates during rest days.

Can I Do Yoga For Piriformis Relief

I know many people enjoy yoga and get relief from stretching. As I mentioned earlier, getting short term relief is fine as long as you’re also working on fixing the root cause of the pain.

And as I also said earlier, stretching won’t release trigger points or inhibit overactive muscles. Too much stretching can even throw the hips out of balance. Certain joints need more mobility but others need more stability and some tightness.

So over-stretching can be detrimental and it’s important to be careful with the yoga routines you engage in. If you’re following yoga routines online, adjust them to where you are in your journey.

Don’t push beyond pain and if you feel uncomfortable doing certain poses, either don’t do them or find a way to modify these poses.

Treating Piriformis Syndrome At Home

I’ve been following this self-massage process for years now. The last time I visited a physiotherapy clinic was in 2014. My last ‘formal’ treatment was a few sessions of dry needling which I recommend to everyone and I really enjoy every now and then.

But, besides that, I’ve been taking care of my muscular system at home following the same strategies I’m going to share with you below.

I see treatments as a way to supplement my own rehab work. I think learning how to do this work gives you more control over your healing and recovery.

I truly believe that if you can just learn the basics and understand how muscles work and how to maintain muscular balance, you’ll be able to achieve relief at home without too many external treatments (if any).

And you can use the treatments to supplement your home treatments.

And, if you have an interest in learning about exercise, it’s going to be really simple. 

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Coach Sofia