Sciatica or Piriformis syndrome? What do you think it is and what should I do?

Hi friends! 

First of all, sorry for my English and probably some major grammar mistakes. I currently live in the United States but I grew up in a different country where we don't speak English. 

I want to share some background information before I come to my question

I'm currently 29 years old and I have played both soccer and ice hockey from when I was 6 years old. I quit soccer when I was 15 because I wanted to focus on hockey. I played hockey pretty seriously in Europe until I was about 23 years old. At the time I was in a decent shape. I din't play on the highest level so we were practicing 3-4 times per week plus a game or two per week. I wasn't making that much off so called "off ice exercising" though, so I was in a decent shape because hockey is intense, but since I wasn't hitting the gym or anything so I wasn't that muscular or anything, just in a decent shape from playing a sport on a decent level if that makes sense. 

When I quit hockey I started to go to the gym instead and I built up a decent physique in about a year. Then I moved to the United States and I kept going seriously to the gym for another year. At the age of 25 I was in the best shape of my life, but at the time I started a new job which made me unable to go to the gym as much as I did earlier. Instead of going 4-5 times per week I was now going 1-2, or sometimes I didn't go at all. This kept going until I turned 28 and I got a new job and that's when I decided to start working out more often and more serious again. I was still in an okay shape, but if you ever been in a great shape chances are that you are going to refer yourself to that time, and that's what I did. 

However, I started to work out again and this is when I realized that I lost a lot of my strength (which makes sense) over the years which was a little frustrating. I kept telling myself that I have to give myself and my body time to build up the strength again, but at one point I made the mistake of lifting way to heavy.

I was doing dead lifts and I felt it right away in the lower back. It was hurting pretty bad and when I came home from the gym I couldn't bend forward at all. At this time, it was only bending forward that was hard or painful. I could still walk without any problems, I could sit and I was able to sleep. A few days later I was still a bit stiff but it improved and got better and better and it wasn't really bothering me that much in my everyday life. A week after my injury I went on a walk and kept doing so for a few days. I even went on a run and slowly started to go to the gym to work on my upper body. 

Couple of weeks later I was pretty much symptom free. I was just a little stiff in the morning but as I said it didn't bother me at all to be honest. If I would still have this "pain" I would probably not even write this text or ever found this website.

At this time I went on a road trip with some friends and I was sitting in the front passenger seat for the whole trip. I'm pretty tall (6'5) and I had a guy sitting behind me, so I moved the seat forward, so I was sitting pretty uncomfortable for the 2 hour drive and the day after I had a little bit of pain in my butt. It wasn't that bad though and I didn't even think that much about it. We stayed at the place for a day and then on our way back I did pretty much the same thing, I was sitting pretty uncomfortable for 2 hours or so. The day after we came back I was having some more pain in mainly my butt, but on a scale from 1-10 I would probably say like a 3. I felt it in the morning but it didn't affect my life that much. I could still walk with just a little pain in the beginning but it went away after a while. I could still stand up and most importantly I could sleep without any problems. 

This pain kept going for a few weeks without any improvements. I kept going on walks and worked out at the gym. I was even doing some squats with light weights and it worked out pretty well - or at least it didn't make it worse at first. But at some point the pain increased and jumped up to a 5.

 At this point I started to feel a little pain in the back of my leg too. I don't really know why but I guess the squats could have been the reason? When the pain increased is when I started to get concerned and started to do some research. At this point I quit doing squats and everything that involved my but and my lower back. I was still able to go on walks which I kept doing, and I kept going to the gym to work out my upper body. I started to do all types of stretching and I was laying on a foam roller after every single workout and I was stretching my leg, my hips and even my back. At this point I was pretty sure it was the Piriformis syndrome. 

This pain was now bothering more and more. It was really bad in the morning now and it took my like 30 minutes in the morning before I could start walking, and I started to have a hard time to sit in my chair at work. I could still walk and stand up okay and sleep wasn't an issue at all. The worse thing was to get in and out of my car at this point. When I stepped in or out of my car, the pain went up to a 10 for a few seconds, and this is when I started to get really concerned and I realized that I really have to do something. 

I first went to the doctor and they gave me naproxen. Took that for a week and it didn't make any difference. I went to get a deep tissue massage because I read that could help to relax the piriformis muscle, BUT THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE!

The day after the deep tissue massage the pain was a 9 out of 10. I know that sounds very dramatic, but I couldn't lay down, I couldn't stand up, I couldn't sit or anything. I was in a constant pain and it was just awful. The pain was in my but and went down in my leg, and my foot started to feel numb and cold. I went to the doctor and he prescribed me methylprednisolone which I took for 6 days. All those 6 days was a total nightmare. I couldn't stand up for more then a minute, I couldn't walk for more then a minute and sitting down was impossible and laying down was hurting too. When I was standing or walking, the pain went to my hip and my whole leg started cramping. At this point I was really really worried and depressed.

I didn't sleep at all basically for those 6 days. The same day when I took my last pill I started to feel a little bit better and this is where I am now basically. I can stand up for about 3 minutes and walk for about the same time before it starts hurting. The pain is still mainly in my but and back of my leg and when I stand or walk I feel it mostly in my hip. I can lay down on my back without that much pain and I can actually sit in my office chair without too much pain so that's a pretty good improvement but still not a great situation. I went to get acupuncture yesterday and he said he thinks is my Piriformis for sure. The treatment helped a little bit I think, but it's hard to tell if it's just the fact that my body have started healing.

This is all happening on my left side (I'm left handed and left footed). My body is not streight and it leans to the right, away from the pain basically. 

So that was a long text, now over to some of my questions:

My question is do you think that the symptoms sounds like piriformis or could it be something with the disc? I know the next step will probably be to get an MRI to be sure, but I don't know if I should do some stretching or will it make it worse? I have tried some stretching already and it doesn't feel better and it kinda makes it feel worse? Isn't that a sign of a slipped disc?

And is there a difference in healing time between Piriformis vs slipped disc? Individual of course but generally speaking? 

And one last question, I see that some people say that they have been living with sciatica for years. Are you guys living with this type of pain or are you on like a level 3 or 4 out of 10? I mean I feel positive at the moment because I'm getting better slowly, but I wouldn't be able to live with this type of pain for years? I can't go to the store or anything especially if they don't have any place where I could sit down and rest every 3 minutes or so.

Thanks for taking your time to read this and hopefully answer :)



  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 654

    Lots of info to read. I'm at work, ssshhhh, don't tell. I will say in my experience it doesn't really matter if it is the piriformis or the disc impinging the nerve. Both can make you have all kinds of pain and symptoms. If it is either of those, mine was the disc, the root cause most likely is the same. Your pelvis is out of alignment due to muscle imbalances. I had the triple crown of pelvic alignment dysfunctions: High Hip, Anterior Pelvic Tilt, Pelvic Rotation. All led to my lumbar disc bulging and eventually impinging the nerve. 

    As you can imagine, muscles can learn. Transversely they can also forget. I had muscles that learned to do the wrong job, and other muscles that forgot what their job is. That's how my dysfunctions occurred...not to mention my lack of variable movement due to my desk job, and other sitting habits.

    Your lean is definitely a sign of muscle imbalances. Be careful of doing any strengthening exercises, as they may cause the imbalances to become stronger, hence causing more pain.  

  • Thank you for your answer and sorry for the long post. I will read the tutorial when I have a chance. Regarding the fact that you have been living with sciatica for a few years, how would you define your pain from 1-10?  guess it depends on various things, but do you ever get pain up to like 8, 9 or 10? I just can't see how people can live with this pain for such a long time and I feel very sorry for you and everyone who does, and it also worries me that I will have to live with this.

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  • Hi Maajka... welcome to sciatica world! I partially agree with the first reply here.  The Sciatic pain is the same no matter what the cause is. Something is definitely impinging on the sciatic nerve, and it's important you find out exactly what it is!! I'm 49 now and have been in very strict pain management for the past 9 years for arthritis from head to toe basically. BUT.. we've always focused on my neck & SI Joints because they gave me the most trouble... Well, we THOUGHT it was SI Joint arthritis/dysfunction for years, up until I finally got referred out to a spine surgeon. Let me back up a little.. Over the past 2-3 yrs my SI Joint was getting worse & so was my hip..i had every test you could possibly get! Yes there's arthritis, but not that bad. But the pain was BAD! Plus 2 yrs ago legs hurt so bad I went to a vein place and a whole bunch of veins ablated for nothing...didnt help!! plus my feet & ankles started to swell and hurt really bad so I went to the foot Dr who made me orthotics... didnt help....and my legs still hurt all over ...felt like I had bruises all over but I didn't .. so last week the ortho does xrays and points out my COLLAPSED DISC @ L5-S1! I was like what?? COLLAPSED?? HOW?? It must have bulged & herniated on & off (hence the pain & swelling episodes) so much over time that it finally just collapsed! That impinged the S1 nerve root, which in turn impinges the sciatic nerve. Google a Human Nerves map/chart.. it will blow your mind!!! Check out a bunch of them! Anyways back to the disc... WOW! OK?NOW WHAT?! Of course he's a surgeon.. he gets paid to operate. So He says SURGERY! Gotta replace the disc from the front/abdomen then flip you over to stabilize it from the back because I have osteopenia (stage b4 osteoporosis.) Plus I need a FOUR LEVEL fusion in my neck! THATS CRAZY.  ..Listen, there is a phenomenal  Dr on youtube names Dr John Bergman. Hes OBSESSED with the human spine (which is a good thing lol) and he is teaching so many people so many things its INCREDIBLE.... with knowledge comes power...and thats no joke... you will finally have power to control what you want to have done and choose what YOU want to do to HEAL and fix whatever you can, before going under the knife.  

    PS. I also read a tip on here and ended up buying a brace called Beactive ($6 on Amazon & ebay). Many people say it doesn't work. If you in fact have SCIATIC PAIN and not something that mimics it, this thing will compress the nerve in your leg and you will want to cry and jump for joy!! 

     I really hope you take into consideration....cause you sound like you are going thru a lot of what I did...and I went off in the total wrong direction!! A SPinal Nerve map is a good place to start!

  • First of all, thanks for your answers! 

    I wanted to come back in here to give you guys an update. Mainly if someone out there just like me would google around "If sciatica ever heals" or "Do you have to live with sciatica for the rest of your life".

    The short answer to that question is NO, but some people seem to be less fortunate and they live with the pain for a long time (and I guess some live with it forever?). 

    But for me at least, the pain went away and I'm at the moment 100% pain free. 

    You can read the details about what happened to me and my background on my first post above. In this post I am going to focus on explaining what I did to get cured from the worst pain I ever experienced in my entire life. Also note that I did a lot of things but it's hard for me to tell what actually made the difference and what not. Some of the things here might not be necessary to do, but I did them and I ended up okay so that's why I'm still going to mention them.

    First stage: Before the pain got really bad I was going to the gym and was pretty much working out as I always done. Except, I didn't do any squats or dead lifts. At this time I mainly had pain when I was sitting down and also when I had to stand up. 

    Second state: Once the pain got worse after I had a deep tissue massage and I couldn't stand or walk for more then 10 seconds, I obviously stopped working out. At this point, I was laying in bed for about 2 and a half weeks and could barely go to work. Luckily, I have a job where I can pretty much lay down all day if I like, but getting to and home from work was such a pain. I was screaming every time I was getting in and out of the car and it was just an awful time. At this point, I went to the doctor and I got prescribed 500mg Naproxen that I took twice a day plus I got a pack of  methylprednisolone that I took for 6 days. This didn't help that much, or not at all to be honest. I was in constant pain and I had a really hard time to sleep. I was icing and heating every day but it didn't help at all at this point. Stretching was impossible at this stage.

    Third stage: At this point, after being in constant pain for more then two weeks I felt that I had to try something different. I friend of mine suggested acupuncture, and after some short research I was ready to try it out. At this point I just wanted a quick fix, just something that would relive the pain a little. I went there with pretty high expectations to be honest, they put a few needles in and gave me some electrical impulses with some heat. It felt pretty good at the moment, but once we were done I realized that the pain was still the same (maybe even a little worse). This might me controversial now, but the acupuncturist suggest me to go get some green medicine since I live in California. He recommended that because it helps you to relax, and in my case to sleep, plus there is some ingredients that helps with inflammation. (You can do your own research on this). As I said, at this point I was ready to try anything because I was so tired of the constant pain, so I took his advice and went to the shop. Later that evening, I took the green medicine, and the day after I woke up with WAY less pain then I felt in the last few weeks. I can't answer if this was because of the acupuncture or the medicine, or maybe a mix of both, but at this time I was starting to feel a bit better, which is huge when you've been in such pain for so long. I started to be able to walk for a minute or two, and I started to be able to stand up for about the same amount of time. Sitting down was still hurting, but not as bad, and reaching stuff from the ground or putting on my socks was still pretty painful. But the improvements made me motivated.

    Fourth stage: At this point, I was slowly making some progress. I realized that I slowly started to be able to stand up longer and longer and I was able to walk longer and longer every day. I was just using a heat pad every morning and before bed because icing seemed to hurt me more. The pain was still there all the time and sitting was an issue, but I started to become in a better mode since I was making progress. Some mornings I woke up in some pain and my body was a little crooked. Some other mornings I woke up and I felt "okay" and I wasn't crooked. It was still hard to put my socks on and to tie my shoes but I forced myself to do it. I kept taking my green medicine every night so at this part I started to sleep better and better. I still woke up couple of times every night with some light pain, but it was definitely not as bad as before. After another two weeks of constant improvement, I went back to a different doctor. The thing was that I was still in some pain and I knew I wanted to know what the problem was, but the doctor just prescribed me soma and percocet and said to me to wait another 4 weeks for an MRI if it didn't got any better. I never took the percocets because I could live with the pain that wasn't too bad, but I took the soma and got off the green medicine and this is when the improvements really started to kick in. Again, I can't swear that this was because of the soma pills, it might also be because of the time and the fact that I was able to move more and more, and maybe because of some placebo from the pills. But the day after I took soma for the first time, I felt a huge difference. After a few days taking soma twice per day (the dr recommended 4 times per day), I was really starting to feel better. At this stage, I could go on an hour long walks, sitting wasn't an issue anymore and I started to be able to do some strecthing couple of times per day. Most of the pain was hitting me when I had to stand up or sit down. 

    Fifth stage: After taking soma and naproxen, plus doing acupuncture once a week for a total of 4 weeks I was finally ready to go to the gym again. Trust me that the first week I was very careful. I stepped on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes to let some blood circulate in my body, and then after that, I was doing some very light weight lifting along with some intense stretching that was somewhat painful. I did this 3 days in a row and worked out different muscle groups and then I finally tried to work out my legs. At this point I was actually still feeling some pain when I was doing lunges and leg kicks (you know that machine). but it wasn't that bad, but it didn't wanted to risk anything so I decided to skip legs for a few more days. I kept doing cardio and some light weights for a few more days (!) and then I tried to workout my legs and then all of a sudden I realized I was 100% pain free!! I haven't been doing squats or dead lifts yet but I done deep leg presses which feels okay. I still work out with pretty light weights since I lost some muscles during my injury, plus I don't want to put stress on my body again and I want to build it up again from the beginning. The key in my opinion is to make light weights to feel heavy by doing slower reps the right way. 

    I also got a new bed the other day which have helped me to sleep a lot better. I got a Hastens bed which is an all natural bed with horsehair and it's without any chemicals and it has individual pocketed springs. It was pretty expensive but it helps me to sleep better and I really wake up more refreshed and I don't feel like I'm putting any pressure on my hips and shoulders when I'm laying on the side and the spine is like a straight line. It's been worth every single penny and I bought it as a gift to myself after I got better!

    Last words: Sorry for the long text but I wanted to share this with people who are looking around for people who ever got better from sciatica. I would say I was injured for about 3 and a half months total. I was in my worst pain ever for about 2 and a half weeks and the pain was pretty intense for another 2 months. I'm still using the heat pad every night before bed, because it has become like a mental thing that just feels good. I also stretch my back couple of times every day (laying on the floor on my stomach and just push my back up with legs on the floor). I also make sure I warm up for 20-30 minutes before every single workout and I always take at least 15 minutes after to do some stretching. I normally also sit in the steam room after every workout for about 15 minutes. I never want this pain to come back. I should also mention that I never got an MRI so I'm not sure what it was, but the UCLA doctor was pretty sure it was a slipped disc and he was right that it would heal itself since I'm only 29 years old and have always been working out. I still wish though that I got an MRI, just to know what it was, but I'm more happy that it finally went away so I don't spend to much time being bummed about that.

    I also want to mention that I ate turmeric pills every day during this whole process. I got them from whole foods. I guess they didn't help at all to be honest but I should mention them.

     It's unbelievable to finally be able to stand up from a chair with no pain or anything. It's amazing to be able to walk without pain, I will never take that for granted again!! Even to sneeze and you realize that you don't feel any pain anymore. I had this for such a long time so I got used to some of the pain. For all of you who are dealing with this at the moment, there's hope for you and I was in so much pain that I was sure that this would never ever go away. For you who have been dealing with this for a long time, I really hope you get better and find something that will finally cure you!!

    If anyone wants to ask any questions, feel free to ask here. I will keep checking in here every now and then. I know your struggle.

  • Hi Maaajka,

    I believe I am currently in the same situation that you were in. This happened around 7 months ago. My pain began as a sharp pain in my butt which was not really a big issue until I went to a massage therapist about 3 months ago. The massage therapist told me that the pain would go away with a good hard massage. Welp, she did just that. I was almost in tears as she was putting her whole weight on the message machine as she was massaging my butt. The next day I could no longer walk without being in extreme pain just 3 minutes of walking. The pain starts from my butt and travles down to my calf and feel it more in my calf than my butt when walking. Ive gone to several chiropractors and one doctor but none have been avle to help. Just recently I went to a doctors office and was by far the most helpful. I asked if I could be prescribed SOMA and told him about your story and how it helped you but instead gave me hydrocodone. He said he might give me soma but first he'd need to take a few blood tests.

    My questions:

    1) How long were you able to walk after you got the message?

    2) Where was the pain? Could you feel it in your calf too?

    3) Did you have any pain near/around the belt line above your butt?

    4) Did you do any stretching to help improve your condition? And/or what else were you doing to improve your walking distance?

    5) So the very next day after taking soma you felt a whole lot better? Or was it a few weeks later?

    6) How are you feeling now that its been a few months since you got better?

    Thank you for sharing yiur story. I hope to do the same once my pain goes away.

    P.s. My pain is in my right butt and leg.

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  • LizLiz Posts: 2,269

    This is an old discussion created by a member no longer on the forum so I have to close it. If they return we can reopen the discussion.

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