Ever wondered why your hips ache after driving a long way, cycling for some time, running or walking a reasonable distance?
It may well be that the piriformis muscle is the villain.
The piriformis is one of a group of 6 outward rotators of the hip - think of the footballer warming up for the match who does the "open gate" movement with his leg bent held out in front of him, then rotating outwards. Or the dancer doing a turn-out.
Whilst there are 5 other muscles in this group, because of the way that the piriformis sits within the body, it tends to be the culprit if things get over worked.
The diagram shows the pelvis as seen from the rear. The piriformis in red sits underneath the glutes (the muscles of the buttocks) - if you imagine it contracting then it will pull the top of the leg back round the body, a movement called lateral hip rotation.
If you cross your legs the "bloke's way" by crossing your ankle over the other knee, then your hip has rotated outwards.
You can see why dancers who do lots of outward rotation of the upper leg might end up with a really well defined piriformis. But there are other causes of the piriformis becoming overly tight (or hypertonic) might be:
An hypertonic piriformis can cause an ache in the hip, but for most people, it's just one of those things. The problem with allowing the muscle to become too "toned" (that is, overusing it too much) is that it lies close to the sciatic nerve, and if piriformis gets too big, it can compress the nerve, causing symptoms akin to sciatica:
Piriformis is buried underneath the glutes, and is really only accessible when your leg is at 90 degrees. I use a combination of remedial massage techniques including deep tissue massage and soft tissue release, with the client lying on their side, leg bent at 90 degrees.
Partly because it's so easy to over-use and become really tight, and partly because it's so hard to stretch, having treatment on your piriformis isn't exactly comfortable.
Oh, ok, it's painful.
As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.