Is It a Herniated Disc or Piriformis Syndrome? Getting the Right Diagnosis Is Key

back pain doctorThings would be much easier in life if every medical problem had one distinct symptom that ruled out all other illnesses or physical issues. Headache? It’s a sinus infection every time. Sore throat? Tonsillitis. Pain in the knee? Torn meniscus. 

But of course, it doesn’t work that way. Many different problems have similar symptoms.

Take, for example, piriformis syndrome and a herniated disc. Frequently, the former is misdiagnosed as the latter because they have similar symptoms. 

Similarities Between Piriformis Syndrome and a Herniated Disc 

Both conditions can first present with pain in the buttock (insert your own joke here)—and they can both cause sciatica, which is pain radiating along the sciatic nerve from the lower back and down the leg.

Other similarities between the conditions include:

  • Tingling or numbness in buttocks and legs
  • Pain related to movement or after a person has been sitting or standing for a long period of time
  • Pain relief when a person lies on their side
  • Leg weakness (in more severe cases)
  • Difficulty sleeping

Differences Between Piriformis Syndrome and a Herniated Disc 

“It’s all about location, location, location.” That old real estate saying applies to differentiating between piriformis syndrome and a herniated disc.

Your piriformis muscle is located in your buttock and so that is where the pain originates. In contrast, a herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, which means the pain might occur in a range of locations in the body.

Other notable differences include the fact that piriformis syndrome is actually more common than a herniated disc—despite the frequency of misdiagnosis—and is more common in women than in men (who tend to suffer from herniated discs at a higher rate than women).

Nerve Release Surgery Is a Possible Solution for Piriformis Syndrome

Often piriformis syndrome can be addressed with conservative treatments like stretching, anti-inflammatory medications, or physical manipulation of the affected area. But sometimes nerve release surgery is the best option.

The goal of nerve release syndrome is to free the sciatic nerve where it is being compressed by the piriformis muscle. Keeping the piriformis muscle healthy can help prevent a recurrence of the issue.

Dr. Williams Has the Expertise to Diagnose and Treat Piriformis Syndrome

If you are experiencing pain in your lower back, buttocks, and/or legs, you need to be confident that the problem will be properly diagnosed. Dr. Eric H. Williams will correctly identify the issue and make the best recommendations for reducing or eliminating your pain. If nerve compression surgery is the right path, he can provide expert care. Contact us today to get the right diagnosis and treatment plan.


Eric H. Williams MD
Specializing in reconstructive surgery and pain relief in the Greater Baltimore area.
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