These assessment and treatment recommendations represent a synthesis of information derived from personal clinical experience and from the numerous sources which are cited, or are based on the work of researchers, clinicians and therapists who are named (Basmajian 1974, Cailliet 1962, Dvorak & Dvorak 1984, Fryette 1954, Greenman 1989, 1996, Janda 1983, Lewit 1992, 1999, Mennell 1964, Rolf 1977, Williams 1965).
Test (a) Stretch test. When short, piriformis will cause the affected side leg of the supine patient to appear to be short and externally rotated. With the patient supine, the tested leg is placed into flexion at the hip and knee so that the foot rests on the table lateral to the contralateral knee (the tested leg is crossed over the straight non-tested leg, in other words as shown in Fig. 4.17). The angle of hip flexion should not exceed 60° (see notes on piriformis in Box 4.6).
Figure 4.17 MET treatment of piriformis muscle with patient supine. The pelvis must be maintained in a stable position as the knee (right in this example) is adducted to stretch piriformis following an isometric contraction.
The non-tested side ASIS is stabilised to prevent pelvic motion during the test and the knee of the tested side is pushed into adduction to place a stretch on piriformis. If there is a short piriformis the degree of adduction will be limited and the patient will report discomfort behind the trochanter.
Test (b) Palpation test (Fig. 4.18) The patient is side-lying, tested side uppermost. The practitioner stands at the level of the pelvis in front of and facing the patient, and, in order to contact the insertion of piriformis, draws imaginary lines between:
Where these reference lines cross, just posterior to the trochanter, is the insertion of the muscle, and pressure here will produce marked discomfort if the structure is short or irritated.
Figure 4.18 Using bony landmarks as coordinates the commonest tender areas are located in piriformis, in the belly and at the attachment of the muscle.
If the most common trigger point site in the belly of the muscle is sought, then the line from the ASIS should be taken to the tip of the coccyx rather than to the ischial tuberosity. Pressure where this line crosses the other will access the mid-point of the belly of piriformis where triggers are common. Light compression here which produces a painful response is indicative of a stressed muscle and possibly an active myofascial trigger point.
The patient lies prone, both knees flexed to 90°, with practitioner at foot of table grasping lower legs at the limit of their separation (which internally rotates the hip and therefore allows comparison of range of movement permitted by shortened external rotators such as the piriformis).
The patient attempts to bring the ankles together as the practitioner assesses the relative strength of the two legs. Mitchell et al (1979) suggest that if there is relative shortness (as evidenced by the lower leg not being able to travel as far from the mid-line as its pair in this position), and if that same side also tests strong, then MET is called for. If there is shortness but also weakness then the reasons for the weakness need to be dealt with prior to stretching using MET.
Figure 4.19 MET treatment of piriformis with hip fully flexed and externally rotated (see Box 4.6, first bullet point).
Figure 4.20 A combined ischaemic compression (elbow pressure) and MET side-lying treatment of piriformis. The pressure is alternated with isometric contractions/stretching of the muscle until no further gain is achieved.
Piriformis method (a) Side-lying The patient is side-lying, close to the edge of the table, affected side uppermost, both legs flexed at hip and knee. The practitioner stands facing the patient at hip level.
The practitioner places his cephalad elbow tip gently over the point behind trochanter, where piriformis inserts. The patient should be close enough to the edge of the table for the practitioner to stabilise the pelvis against his trunk (Fig. 4.20). At the same time, the practitioner’s caudad hand grasps the ankle and uses this to bring the upper leg/hip into internal rotation, taking out all the slack in piriformis.
A degree of inhibitory pressure (sufficient to cause discomfort but not pain) is applied via the elbow for 5–7 seconds while the muscle is kept at a reasonable but not excessive degree of stretch. The practitioner maintains contact on the point, but eases pressure, and asks the patient to introduce an isometric contraction (25% of strength for 5–7 seconds) to piriformis by bringing the lower leg towards the table against resistance. (The same acute and chronic rules as discussed previously are employed, together with cooperative breathing if appropriate, see Box 4.2.)
After the contraction ceases and the patient relaxes, the lower limb is taken to its new resistance barrier and elbow pressure is reapplied. This process is repeated until no further gain is achieved.
Piriformis method (b)1 This method is a variation on the method advocated by TePoorten (1960) which calls for longer and heavier compression, and no intermediate isometric contractions.
In the first stage of TePoorten’s method the patient lies on the non-affected side with knees flexed and hip joints flexed to 90°.The practitioner places his elbow on the piriformis musculotendinous junction and a steady pressure of 20–30 lb (9–13 kg) is applied. With his other hand he abducts the foot so that it will force an internal rotation of the upper leg.
The leg is held in this rotated position for periods of up to 2 minutes. This procedure is repeated two or three times. The patient is then placed in the supine position and the affected leg is tested for freedom of both external and internal rotation.
Piriformis method (b)2 The second stage of TePoorten’s treatment is performed with the patient supine with both legs extended. The foot of the affected leg is grasped and the leg is flexed at both the knee and the hip. As knee and hip flexion is performed the practitioner turns the foot inward, so inducing an external rotation of the upper leg. The practitioner then extends the knee, and simultaneously turns the foot outward, resulting in an internal rotation of the upper leg.
During these procedures the patient is instructed to partially resist the movements introduced by the practitioner (i.e. the procedure becomes an isokinetic activity). This treatment method, repeated two or three times, serves to relieve the contracture of the muscles of external and internal hip rotation.
Piriformis method (c) A series of MET isometric contractions and stretches can be applied with the patient prone and the affected side knee flexed. The hip is rotated internally by the practitioner using the foot as a lever to ease it laterally, so putting piriformis at stretch. Acute and chronic guidelines described earlier are used to determine the appropriate starting point for the contraction (at the barrier for acute and short of it for chronic).
The patient attempts to lightly bring the heel back towards the midline against resistance (avoiding strong contractions to avoid knee strain in this position) and this is held for 7–10 seconds. After release of the contraction the hip is rotated further to move piriformis to or through the barrier, as appropriate. Application of inhibitory pressure to the attachment or belly of piriformis is possible via thumb, if deemed necessary.
Piriformis method (d) A general approach which balances muscles of the region, as well as the pelvic diaphragm, is achieved by having the patient squat while the practitioner stands and stabilises both shoulders, preventing the patient from rising as this is attempted, while the breath is held. After 7–10 seconds the effort is released; a deeper squat is performed, and the procedure is repeated several times.
Piriformis method (e) This method is based on the test position (see Fig. 4.17) and is described by Lewit (1992). With the patient supine, the treated leg is placed into flexion at the hip and knee, so that the foot rests on the table lateral to the contralateral knee (the leg on the side to be treated is crossed over the other, straight, leg). The angle of hip flexion should not exceed 60° (see notes on piriformis, Box 4.6, for explanation).
The practitioner places one hand on the contralateral ASIS to prevent pelvic motion, while the other hand is placed against the lateral flexed knee as this is pushed into resisted abduction to contract piriformis for 7–10 seconds. Following the contraction the practitioner eases the treated side leg into adduction until a sense of resistance is noted; this is held for 10–30 seconds.
Piriformis method (f) Since contraction of one piriformis inhibits its pair, it is possible to self-treat an affected short piriformis by having the patient lie up against a wall with the non-affected side touching it, both knees flexed (modified from Retzlaff 1974). The patient monitors the affected side by palpating behind the trochanter, ensuring that no contraction takes place on that side.
After a contraction lasting 10 seconds or so of the non-affected side (the patient presses the knee against the wall), the patient moves away from the wall and the position described for piriformis test (see Fig. 4.17) above is adopted, and the patient pushes the affected side knee into adduction, stretching piriformis on that side. This is repeated several times.
Dr. Alex Jimenez offers an additional assessment and treatment of the hip flexors as a part of a referenced clinical application of neuromuscular techniques by Leon Chaitow and Judith Walker DeLany. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic and spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Overall health and wellness are essential towards maintaining the proper mental and physical balance in the body. From eating a balanced nutrition as well as exercising and participating in physical activities, to sleeping a healthy amount of time on a regular basis, following the best health and wellness tips can ultimately help maintain overall well-being. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can go a long way towards helping people become healthy.
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