There is a wide variety of techniques to stretch the large hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs. Below are instructions and illustrations for several hamstring stretches that are easy to do and gentle for people with sciatica pain.

See Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Hamstring Stretch While Lying on the Back

Most patients with low back pain or leg pain will benefit from hamstring stretching exercises done while lying on the back. These hamstring stretching positions are the least stressful.

The towel hamstring stretch begins flat on the back.
Supine Hamstring Stretch (Towel Hamstring Stretch) for Low Back Pain and Sciatica Relief Video

Towel Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie on the back, supporting the thigh with the hand or with a towel wrapped around it.
  • Slowly straighten the knee until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh, trying to get the bottom of the foot to face the ceiling, one leg at a time.
  • Hold the position initially for 10 seconds, and gradually work up to 20 to 30 seconds.

The wall hamstring stretch can be modified depending on ability level.
Wall Hamstring Stretch for Sciatica Relief Video

Wall Hamstring Stretch

  • Another low stress hamstring stretch is to lie back on the floor with the buttocks against a wall at a corner or by a door jamb.
  • Keeping one leg on the floor, place the foot of the alternate leg against the wall and try to gently push the knee straight so the raised leg and the leg on the floor make a 90 degree angle.
  • Hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds.

Hamstring Stretches While Sitting

Although stretching while in a sitting position is less gentle than lying on the back, hamstring stretches can also be done in a sitting position, where the degree of stretch can be varied based on the placement of the leg:

The degree of the stretch is varied by the placement of the leg in a seated hamstring stretch.
Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch for Sciatica Relief Video

Seated Hamstring Stretch

  • While sitting at the edge of a chair, straighten one leg in front of the body with the heel on the floor.
  • Then, sit up straight and try pushing the navel towards the thigh without leaning the trunk of the body forwards.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times for each leg.

For more information see Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief

Many people—and especially women—tend to be more flexible and may need to elevate the foot on a stool or chair to get a deep enough stretch.