Piriformis Syndrome and Flexibility in Dancers

Hello Lisa,

First of all I would just like to say that I am enjoying the Front Splits Fast program immensely – I have felt a lot of benefit from the thoracic and spinal mobility sections as well as the hip releases. When I started the program I could not touch my toes (I was about 4-5cms away), but now on many days I am able to touch my toes easily and sometimes beyond. My main problem, however, is that my hamstrings are still tight and I feel like they are still restricting any improvements on this new flexibility. When I start moving forward to touch my toes the muscles feel ‘solid’, and there seems to be some degree of tension even at rest.     

I was told by a physiotherapist that I have Piriformis syndrome, could this be causing the hamstring tightness? I have been doing the releases and I feel like it’s improving and I feel there are few significant improvement to my hamstring tension (that last) on a day-to-day basis. Is there anything else I could be doing daily to help this or should I just keep going with the FSF program? I have also got a split rectus abdominal muscle (following two pregnancies) which has decreased from an 8cm split to around 4cm – I just wondered if this could be having an impact on the tension held throughout my body? Any suggestions for how to improve this if so?

Many, many thanks for your help, I am desperate to get my pre-baby body back!

With best wishes,


p.s. My children are 4.5 and 1.5 so I have been given the all clear to exercise and I currently do two advanced ballet classes a week.


Dear Natasha

Thanks so much for your email – and I am so glad that you are enjoying the program! There are a few things that may be blocking your range, so I will go through a few extra tips here.

If you do have Piriformis Syndrome, there are a few things to focus on that may help. The first is to check that you are not gripping too much with your turnout muscles when working in class. Turnout muscles are designed to activate and release, however when we go back to class after a long break, sometimes we can try a little too hard! Gripping with the gluteals and turnout muscles can result in excessive tension in the Piriformis muscle and cause pressure on the sciatic nerve as it passes through/underneath the Piriformis muscle.

The other is to make sure that your pelvis is actually stable. After having children, and especially after having two of them, the pelvic ligaments have gone through several stages of state of relaxation and resetting. Please note that this is true whether you have had a natural birth or a caesarean. You have an increase in the hormone ‘Relaxin’ in your body in the third trimester in preparation for labour. Sometimes, the pelvis moves back into position well, however at other times, the SIJ (Sacro Iliac Joint), between the tail bone  (sacrum) and hip bones (ilium) can become disengaged.

Sacro Iliac Joint

Sacro Iliac Joint

When we stand onto one leg (normally) the SIJ goes through a small amount of rotation that locks the joint into place to allow us to balance on this leg without excessive muscular force. This is termed “Form Closure”. If the SIJ does not engage, the muscles that cross the joint (namely, you guessed it – Piriformis) have to forcibly contract to stabilise the joint, termed “Force Closure”. If the Piriformis is constantly contracting to stabilise the pelvis, and then you are trying to turn out on top of this, it will understandably get very overworked and tight.

This can happen in both mothers and hypermobile individuals. If you feel that this may be a problem for you, I would suggest consulting a Physiotherapist or Osteopath who works with the mechanics of the pelvis. The adjustments needed can be very minor (no cracking involved) and can make a BIG difference in how stable you are through the pelvis, and the symptoms of Piriformis syndrome.

The other thing that I would check is definitely your gluteal firing. Make sure that you go into the Members Area and watch the video on this in the bonus videos section. If your gluteals are not working properly then the hamstrings may be taking too much load when you are walking.

The other thing to watch when you have small children is how you pick them up during the day. This may seem a little odd, but if you are excessively using your hamstrings (leaning forward and picking them up by bending your back rather than your knees) rather than squatting and standing up with your gluteals and quads, then you may be overworking them.

In the bonus section there is also a video on hamstring massage, which may help a lot. If you can get your partner or a friend to massage in between the hamstrings to free up the neural and fascial structures further, then this may improve your flexibility even more.

I do hope that this helps you get even more mobile, and I look forward to hearing about your progress!

Kindest Regards

Lisa Howell

Ps… In regards to the split in the Rectus Abdominis…. This can have an influence on your mobility in a round-about kind of way…

The best thing to do for it is focus on really isolating your Transverus Abdominis (deepest abdominal muscle). Please do not attempt any regular sit-ups unless the split is under 2cm. Your therapist should be able to advise you on safe exercises to start with, and this isolation should then be carried into your barre work in ballet.

Even better, if you can find a physiotherapist with access to a visual ultrasound machine, this is priceless for actually working out just how to get these deep muscles engaging effectively, especially after the stretching that they go through in pregnancy.

This is a big focus in our “Core Stability for Dancers”  program. Isolation of the deep abdominals, and deep back muscles, and then how they should be used in class.

Let me know if I can help in any other way!

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