What is a Piriformis Release?

     what is a piriformis release?
Q: What is a piriformis release?
A: The opposite of a piriformis stretch.


A piriformis release refers to letting go of chronic tension that might have accumulated in the piriformis muscle that connects the leg to the sacrum. There are only two muscles that join the legs to the spine—piriformis and psoas major. These two muscles go a long way to holding the spine on top of the pelvis if we are standing with good skeletal alignment. Regrettably they are often overworked or dysfunctional due to poor posture.

I often talk and write about our bones holding us up and the muscles moving us. There are a number of muscles that do more than others when it comes to posture. The piriformis is among them (as well as psoas major, levator ani…) but when we stand and walk incorrectly the piriformis will be active all the time but in an unfortunate, or ineffective, way.

Poor posture leads to misaligned piriformis and psoas muscles which will suffer and very often become tight and full of tension. When this is the case release work can be very effective and I will link to a number of piriformis releases that we work with (Here, here, and here for starters). The essence of these piriformis releases is that they basically allow the piriformis to shut off for a while.

Almost everybody tucks the pelvis under and just as many people stand and walk with their feet turned out. Both of these patterns will shorten the piriformis muscle which doesn’t always mean tight. You can have a short piriformis muscle that is very weak or one that is tight and strong. Every body is different and reacts to postural and muscular imbalances in different ways.

The key is to identify who you are, what you need, and create a plan to bring positive change to your body. It isn’t necessarily difficult but it is work best performed by you with the help and guidance of others. Get to know your body—especially the piriformis and the psoas. They are as important as it gets when it comes to understanding your core and developing a healthy body.

Does everyone need a piriformis release to get better posture and/or heal pain? Not necessarily but try one of the piriformis releases above and see how it affects you. Even if you aren’t in pain, you might find that your range of motion is freer and movement more fluid.

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  1. Jonathan,

    Thanks for posting some better options! I am sharing your post with some friends on FB who love the piriformis stretch.

    Question – if pelvic floor muscles are weak/too tight/or inhibited (like a butt-tucker) – would the piriformis have to take on the load transmitted by a pelvis that can’t do it’s job?

    I’m thinking of the three-legged dog who still walks like a champ – the dog isn’t using it’s legs to scaffold himself – it’s the opposite, right? The hips are the boss of the legs!

    I work with a few people who are rabid road cyclists. Let’s just say for now, walking is an un-preferred activity.

    When they try to do a basic hip-list (use lateral hip muscles on fixed leg w/adductor stabilizing) – there is nothing there. They can adduct the leg ok, but can’t use adductor as stabilizer to hip-hike – which means a lot for gait.

    You know this: tight, quad-dominant cyclists recruit even more of psoas and add more pelvic tuck to deal with the geometry of their bikes. The saddle is used as a hammock on which to hang the now unsupported pelvis (adding even more pressure and friction to a PF that has more than enough of that from the butt-tucking. The spine, via the psoas, is now a force generator instead of a force transmitter. Good times.

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Julie, The piriformis/ pelvic floor question is interesting. For me when the pelvic floor muscles are messed up, the piriformis is going along for the ride. This might not make sense but I see the load that you are talking about being taken on by the quadratus femoris tendon. Let me know what you think of that.
      Regarding cyclists, what’s a rider to do? The set up of the bike doesn’t really allow for happy psoas. It is hard for most cyclists to stay out of a poorly aligned pelvis and therefore rarely use the psoas correctly even if they are over using it. I see the key to cycling as being the inner thighs. Tight quad dominant cyclists need to get more to the midline so that their adductors can work properly when cycling and when walking.
      How does that sound?

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