Saanichton Physical Therapy Blog

Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis Syndrome

The Piriformis Muscle

Do you have pain in your buttock? Low Back Pain? Your Piriformis muscle may be the culprit.

Your Piriformis muscle is a small, deep, buttock muscle. Many of us have a tight piriformis muscle which can cause pain issues in your gluteal/buttock region as it passes right over your sciatic nerve. When your piriformis becomes tight it can compress your sciatic nerve and start creating all kinds of issues. Many of us sit at computer desks for many hours on most days. This essentially means that you sit on your sciatic nerve, gluteal muscles and piriformis muscle every day. If your nerve is calm and not irritated, that feels ok but if it is stirred up from a tight piriformis muscle your gluteal and buttock region can become extremely painful.

Symptoms of piriformis muscle syndrome

If your piriformis is irritated you may feel pain in your buttock region, pain down your leg, numbness and tingling traveling into your leg and foot, pain on sitting, standing and squatting down.

Our therapists determine if your sciatic nerve pain is originating from your piriformis muscle or from your spine. If your piriformis muscle is the culprit, you will feel like your pain originates in your buttock regions, not your spine. Another distinction between the two origins of your pain is that with a tight piriformis muscle you usually won’t have muscle weakness in the affected lower limb side whereas you if your pain originates from your spine you may get symptoms down the affected limb side.

Some men have had a sciatic nerve irritation caused or aggravated by sitting on their wallet in their back pocket. “Note– Never sit on your wallet” Piriformis muscle pain doesn’t have to be isolated to the muscle itself. You can have SIJ (sacroiliac joint) pain and wider spread gluteal muscle pain too.

Piriformis Muscle Treatment

Your physiotherapist will first identify the cause of your pain and symptoms. This may include a biomechanical assessment of certain movements involving your lower limbs and pelvis. We will then target hands-on treatment to release your tight Piriformis muscle. We will also assess and treat any tightness or symptoms around your other gluteal muscles and lower back if they are contributing to your pain issues. Treatment techniques that may be helpful include IMS Dry needling and Shockwave Therapy.


Shockwave Therapy- a force to be reckoned with.

Shockwave Therapy- a force to be reckoned with.

K. Raveendran MD, Trauma Surgeon
International Journal of Surgery
Volume 24, Part B, December 2015, Pages 113-114

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) was first used in vivo for the disintegration of renal and ureteric calculi in 1980 followed shortly by its use for gallbladder calculi in 1985.

In 1988, the use of these acoustic waves was tried successfully for the treatment of nonunion of long bone fractures in Germany. In the nineties, shock wave therapy was used for the treatment of plantar fasciitis, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and calcific rotator cuff tendinitis.

Over the last two decades the use of ESWT has grown by leaps and bounds, and this special issue with twenty invited articles will try to inform you of the current concepts in the use of ESWT.

There are five original full-length articles and 15 review articles covering the cellular mechanisms and the clinical uses of ESWT. The first invited article is a prospective study by Gerdesmeyer et al. [1] showing that bone mineral density (BMD) increased six weeks after ESWT, and was statistically significant at twelve weeks. However it is not clear whether this effect on BMD is permanent or regresses after a few months. This study is very exciting as it indicates the possibility of treating osteoporosis with ESWT.

The experimental study by Santos et al. [2] from Brazil showed an increase of sulfated glycosaminoglycan in rat femurs after the application of ESWT. This suggests that shock waves can prolong anabolism of GAGs and also may have systemic effects. This study helps us to understand the multifactorial effects of ESWT on bone healing. Sukubo et al. [3] studied the effect of low dose shock waves on macrophages in vitro and showed their probable role in the prevention of fibrosis.

In this article from Taiwan, Kuo et al. [4] showed that the union rate was 100 percent after the application of ESWT twelve months from initial surgery (8 out of 8 patients), and 42.9 percent when applied after twelve months (6 out of 14 patients). This study albeit small is very encouraging for this difficult condition of atrophic nonunion. It also showed that ESWT could be followed by additional surgeries without any adverse effects. Atrophic nonunion is due to compromised vascularity, and ESWT through its neovascularization effect facilitates bony union.

This original paper on radial shock wave treatment in patients with plantar heel pain by Rompe et al. [5] is significant as it validates the successful use of radial as compared to focused shock waves. It also shows that a simple programme of manual stretching exercises after ESWT produces significantly better results at four months after initial therapy.

The blasting of urinary and biliary calculi is purely mechanical but low energy shock waves have shown a mechanotransduction effect on the biochemistry of the cell. This has helped us to understand the healing powers of ESWT in various tissues. Cheng and Wang [6] acknowledge that the biological mechanism of shock waves in bone is still unknown. In this review they cite many studies on the molecular basis of bone healing, improvement of osteonecrosis and osteochondrogenesis. Shock waves do not induce cracks or micro damage the bone. ESWT may replace surgery for nonunion of long bone fractures without the surgical risks.

The review by d’Agostino et al. [7] traces the history of ESWT to its present status, where the concept of mechanotransduction helps us to understand why acoustic waves can lead to tendon and bone healing. This article and its many references will help us to understand how ESWT is a healing procedure.

ESWT in Achilles tendinopathy is a well-established indication and this review by Gerdesmeyer et al. [8] of the current evidence updates our knowledge of this fairly common condition. The article documents the high evidence of published studies of the efficacy of ESWT in Achilles tendinopathy and concludes that shock wave therapy is the most effective modality of treatment for chronic Achilles tendinopathy.

The review of the treatment of chronic patella tendinopathy with ESWT by Leal et al. [9] reinforces the excellent results of ESWT in the treatment of various tendinopathies in the last fifteen years. The best results are achieved when used in combination with eccentric exercises and standardized physical therapy protocols. The title of this review on lateral condylitis (tennis elbow) says it all. This is an overuse syndrome and is one of the most treated conditions with ESWT. This article by Thiele et al. [10] documents the historical use of shock wave for lateral condylitis since 1996 with mixed results in initial studies. Later studies showed more positive results. Efficacy has been well demonstrated and treatment procedures standardized. Only Level 1-b studies were included in this overview and the authors concluded that repeated applications of ESWT should be performed before resorting to surgery.

The review by Moya et al. [11] on current knowledge of evidence based ESWT for shoulder pathology emphasizes the excellent results for calcific shoulder tendinopathy. This is one of the two main indications for the use of ESWT in musculoskeletal disorders together with plantar fasciitis. However shock wave therapy is being increasingly used for non-calcific shoulder tendinopathies. The review also highlights the rare complication of humeral head necrosis (two reports). It has also been often used for frozen shoulder, bicipital tendinitis and postoperative shoulder stiffness. However these indications are still controversial.

Is ESWT the first choice treatment for fracture non-unions? Schaden et al. [12] believe it to be so after long personal experience and an extensive review of the literature in this article. There are more than twenty publications reporting on the good results of ESWT in fracture non-unions with practically no side effects. A non-union gap of more than 5 mm in long bones is a negative factor for a successful outcome. ESWT should be used after failed internal fixation or with the addition of a plaster cast, orthosis or an external fixator.

Two reviews on the use of ESWT for avascular necrosis of the femoral head by Wang et al. [13] and Russo et al. [14] describes this fairly new therapy for this difficult condition. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, histopathological studies of retrieved femoral heads have shown viable bone and cellular proliferation after ESWT. Studies have shown that ESWT is more effective that the gold standard of core decompression and bone grafting for early avascular necrosis of the femoral head.
By: K Ravenndran, MD Trauma Surgeon
International Journal of Surgery
Volume 24, Part B, December 2015, Pages 113-114

The good results have led surgeons to extrapolate the use of ESWT in adult osteochondritis dissecans. This review by Thiele et al. [15] on osteochondritis of the knee and talus published studies on this relatively new indication. The authors conclude that shock wave should be considered before any surgical intervention in early cases.

We continue on our journey on bone treatment with the use of ESWT in stress fractures by Leal et al. [16]. This comprehensive review of stress fractures in general is worth reading. ESWT is a relatively new treatment modality. There are several case reports and series with encouraging results for the use of ESWT in stress fractures.

Myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia always evokes mixed feelings among doctors and this comprehensive review by Ramon et al. [17] helps us to understand the pathophysiology of this common disorder. ESWT is a novel therapy for these painful conditions and should be done together with a supervised exercise programme. These indications are still under investigation.

We leave the field of musculoskeletal disorders for other fields like the skin and the heart. ESWT is also used for erectile dysfunction but this special issue did not include this indication as it is still under experimental use.

The review on the use of ESWT for diabetic foot ulcers by Wang et al. [18] shows that shock wave, both radial and focused is effective in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. It has also been used in non-diabetic ulcers and skin flaps to improve flap survival. This review also highlights that ESWT is more effective than hyperbaric oxygen therapy for diabetic foot ulcers.

A metaanalysis of the treatment of cellulite with ESWT by Knobloch and Kraemer [19] reviews eleven clinical studies with five randomized controlled trials. Both focused and radial devices were used, and there was improvement of the cellulite severity scale (CSS) in the treated groups after twelve weeks. However the studies used various mixed techniques that have been listed in the metaanalysis. Long term follow up beyond one year was lacking.
Shock wave therapy of the heart is still in its infancy and this review by Holfeld et al. [20] is a comprehensive review of this new and exciting indication. If ESWT can regenerate ischaemic heart muscle, it will be a milestone in cardiac treatment.

In 1997, Haupt [21] wrote ‘In patients in whom conservative treatment has failed, surgery used to be the only choice, but its success rate barely exceeds that of shock wave therapy and surgery can still be done if shock wave therapy fails. Extracorporeal shock waves will have an impact on orthopedics comparable to its effect in urology.’

Almost twenty years after Haupt wrote this, sadly many surgeons, doctors and allied medical personnel are unaware of ESWT or believe it to be akin to alternative medicine.

The FDA approved the use of ESWT for the treatment of plantar fasciitis in 2000 and the treatment of lateral condylitis in 2002. I hope that this special issue will be a valuable tool and a reference to the further study of ESWT in the coming years.


Prevent falls, promote health

Prevent falls, promote health

Falls cause 2/3rds of deaths due to unintentional injury in the elderly, which is the 5th leading cause of death of people over 65 years of age.

A fall by an elderly person can be defined as “a situation in which the older adult falls to the ground or is found lying on the ground” or “any unintended contact with a supporting surface, such as a chair, counter or wall”. (Shumway-Cook & Woollacott 2017)

We have your health in mind, and the prevention of such an adverse event, in our best interest and priority. We have decided to write a blog post to provide you with information to help minimise your risk of falling and increase your chances to lead a fit and healthy aging process.

The following list presents risk factors that are relevant to individual factors that increase the chance of falling:

Muscle weakness
History of falling
Walk with a limp
Poor balance (feel wobbly when walking)
Use of a walking aid (e.g. walking stick or frame)
Poor vision
Poor cognition (e.g. memory/ ability to problem solve)
Age greater than 80 years old

Are any of the symptoms listed above relevant to you?

It is difficult to attribute ageing as the sole reason for the development of the traits listed above, as older adults of the same age can demonstrate physical function ranging from physically elite to entirely dependent on others for all activities of daily living. However, there are some common trends of declining function to do with the neuromuscular system which occur in older adults, and although age may not be the main cause for these changes in the systems of postural control, it is likely, increasing age has a detrimental effect.

The aspects of the systems of postural control potentially detrimentally affected by age include:

Muscle strength
Range of motion
Static balance (ability to remain stable when you are not moving)
Dynamic balance (ability to remain stable with movement)
Reactive balance control (ability to sequence movement, time muscle activation and adapt to changing tasks and environmental demands
Anticipatory balance control (the ability to stabilise the body before performing a movement)
Sensation (the ability to detect change in the external environment through vision, hearing, touch, ability to sense vibration, and proprioception, or the ability to sense where your body is in space)

It is also necessary to comment on the loss of bone density associated with increased age (>50 years old). A loss of bone density increases your risk of fracture when falling and is something everyone can and should actively work to minimise.

Our Physiotherapists are pleased to guide you and minimise your risk of falling. Therefore, we have developed a very simple home exercise program for all readers, using equipment all should have access to, to enable you to take action to reduce your risk of developing risk factors of falling and consequently your overall risk of falling, immediately!!:

Sit to stand (to increase muscle strength)

Sitting upright in a chair
Lean forward with hands on chair
Push through arms and heels keeping back straight
Squeeze your buttocks to stand as tall as possible
Repeat 15 squats
Perform 3 x daily

Thoracic extension (to increase range of motion)

Sitting on a chair which has a high back
Place a rolled towel horizontally behind your shoulder blades
Place both hands behind your neck and interlock your fingers
Touch elbows together
Bend backward to a comfortable position and hold for 30seconds
Perform 3 x daily

SLS (to increase static postural control)

Standing next to a stable object
Place one hand on the stable object
Lift one leg off of the floor to form a L-shape
If you are confident and safe, take your hand off of the chair
Hold for 30 seconds
Repeat on the opposite leg
Perform 3 x daily

SLS – Eyes closed (to enhance sensation especially proprioception)
As above, however once stable, close your eyes and hold for 30 seconds

Tandem stance (to increase static postural control)

Standing next to a stable object
Place one hand on the stable object
Place one foot directly in front of the other, so that your toes of the back foot are touching the heel of the front foot, forming in a straight line
If you are confident and safe, take your hand off of the chair
Hold for 30 seconds
Repeat with the opposite leg in front
Perform 3 x daily

Tandem walking (to increase dynamic postural control)

Continue to get into the position as above, however, continue walking – like you are walking on a tightrope! (We recommend alongside the kitchen bench for safety precautions)
30 minutes of walking daily (to increase bone density, dynamic postural control anticipatory balance and importantly cardiovascular fitness – or heart and lung health!!)
This program is very basic and does not cover all of the aspects of postural control. Please make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists to extend your exercise program, so that we can make it more tailored to your needs and more interesting. We will use modern, exciting equipment and more fun movements!!

Finally, the following listed items are external factors that also increase one’s likelihood of falling. They are known as secondary factors and are easily controlled:

Throw rugs
Slippery surfaces
Poor lighting
Clutter in the home
Uneven pavement

Please take a moment to consider how you can minimise your risk of falling through controlling these listed items, for example placing non-slip mats in the shower, reducing clutter in frequently used walkways, having a bedside lamp to use when going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

We hope you have found this blog helpful and please do call us for any questions or comments.

Chapter 9 Shumway-Cook, A & Woollacott MH 2017, ‘Aging and Postural Control’, in M Nobel (ed.)Motor Control: Translating Research into Clinical Practice, 5th edition, Wolters Kluwer, Philadelphia, pp. 206- 228.


Hip Bursitis

Hip Bursitis

What is it?

Hip bursitis is a fairly common condition, and involves inflammation of the bursae around the hip joint. The bursa are small fluid-filled sacs, and are present to reduce the friction between tendons and the bone and ensure that everything is able to move smoothly. However they can become inflamed and painful with overuse, trauma and incorrect muscle use or weakness. There are many, however the bursitis we most commonly see is the Trochanteric Hip Bursitis. The trochanteric bursa cushions the outside of the hip against the gluteal muscles (especially gluteal maximus) and the Iliotibial Band (ITB). It is the most commonly injured as these are muscles very commonly used and therefore give the bursa a lot of work!

What are the causes?

As mentioned earlier, there are a few key causes of bursitis:
Overuse (or muscles around the area) and repetitive stress – eg. With frequent running, jumping, squatting
Trauma – e.g. a fall directly onto the outside of the hip (where there isn’t much padding)
Incorrect muscle use and muscle patterns, causing altered biomechanics of the lower limb – this can also include weakness of the core muscles
Weakness in the deeper gluteal muscles (Gluteus Medius and Minimus), and tightness in the Iliotibial Band (a band that runs down the outside of the thigh). As a result of the weakness in the deeper gluteal muscles, the gluteus maximus (biggest gluteal muscle) is forced to work more than it should, and so places more pressure in the bursa, which over time causes irritation and inflammation, and pain.

Interestingly, there are recent studies to suggest that hip bursitis does not often occur on its own, and that there is commonly some element of Gluteal pathology – especially tendinopathy of the Gluteus Medius (the main stabilising glute muscle). This may be the causative reason for weakness in this area, however it is not known yet as to which comes first – the bursitis, or the tendinopathy.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Commonly, sufferers will have a sharp pain on the side of their hip (worst directly over the bony outer part of the hip, and often tender to touch). This pain may extend down towards the knee, or even upwards towards the lower back. In fact, as the lower back, hip and knee are so closely linked, it is not uncommon to see problems in all areas along with hip bursitis, including pain, stiffness and restricted movement of these areas.
Sometimes there will also be a visible swelling over the outside of the hip, or even just the feeling of swelling.
There is often difficulty lying down on the side (due to the direct pressure), or even on the unaffected side (due to the stretch). This may cause trouble with sleeping.
Walking is also aggravating, especially first thing in the morning, or after a busy day. A limp may be present. There may also be pain with sitting cross-legged, or rising out of a chair after sitting for a while.

What are the treatment options?

There are several options when it comes to improving pain and keeping the bursitis away.
Physiotherapy – this is highly successful for treating trochanteric bursitis. Initially, treatment will involve techniques to reduce the pain and swelling (eg. Ultrasound, ice, gentle massage, acupuncture, taping). Following this, your physiotherapist will aim to return full range of motion of the affected hip (and also lower back, knee if affected), correct any muscle imbalances around the hip and restore full function of the stabilising hip and core muscles, and work to eliminate any excess tightness that may be contributing to the problem. Due to the nature of trochanteric bursitis, and the danger of it recurring, a long-term program may be required.

Ice – due to the inflammatory nature of trochanteric bursitis. Ice for 15 minutes at least once per day, and also after aggravating activities
Anti-inflammatory medications
Cortisone Injections – this involves injecting a corticosteroid (anti-inflammatory) along with a local anaesthetic into the bursa in order to settle the inflammation and stimulate healing. A guided injection (usually via ultrasound) is preferred as it will assist with needle placement. Cortisone injections can be very helpful, however repeat injections have been shown affect tendon health detrimentally – it would be wise to discuss side effects with your GP.

What can I do to help?

If sleeping is a problem, it can be improved in the short term with a pillow between the legs, to level out the hips when laying on the unaffected side.
Driving can be aided by sitting slightly higher (so your hips are not as bent). This may involve lifting the seat (in newer cars), or simply sitting on a pillow. Do make sure you can still reach the pedals & drive safely however!
There are several helpful exercises that will assist in recovery and strengthening. These will ideally be performed after the initial healing phase is completed (that is, when the pain and swelling have diminished). These exercises should be performed within your comfort levels, without causing pain.

Seated gluteal stretch

Sit on edge of chair, cross one foot over the other knee, SIT UP TALL, and lean forwards
There should be a comfortable stretch in the buttocks, or even down the side/back of the leg
Hold 20 seconds, repeat 3 times each leg

Lying gluteal stretch (Single knee to chest)

Lying on your back, slowly bring one knee up towards the opposite shoulder as far as comfortable.
You should feel a gentle, comfortable stretch in your lower back, or buttocks
Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times


Start on your back with knees bent (no pillow is best)
Slowly roll pelvis/hips off floor, followed by one vertebrae at a time
Aim to lower down, one vertebrae at a time
Try 10 repetitions

Prone Knee Bend

Start by lying on your tummy, feel the front of your hips on the floor.
Bend one knee to 90 degrees and then slowly lift thigh off floor (the front of your hips should stay firmly on the floor)
Once lifted, straighten your leg in the air, then slowly lower your straight leg
Repeat 10 times each leg


Start lying on your side with knees bent slightly. Make sure your shoulders, hips and feet are in a straight line.
Keep your feet together, back still and gently open your knees apart.
Repeat 10+ times on each leg, or until fatigue
* This exercise is especially helpful as it targets the Gluteus Medius

Advanced Clamshells

As above, make sure your body is aligned well.
This time, lift your feet up, keep your lower knee on the floor and lift your knees apart.
Repeat 10+ times on each leg, or until fatigue