Many techniques to stretch the hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs are available, and it is important to select an approach that is comfortable and won’t aggravate the sciatic nerve.

Below are instructions and illustrations for hamstring stretches while lying down, sitting, and standing, which are easy to perform and gentle for people with sciatica pain.

View Slideshow: Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief

Hamstring Stretches While Lying on the Back

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

Towel hamstring stretch

With a towel in hand and a comfortable place to stretch, follow these steps:

  • Lie on the back, wrap a towel around the back of one thigh and support the thigh by holding each end of the towel. If a towel is not available, the hands can be used to hold the thigh. Keep the other leg flat on the floor.
  • Slowly straighten the knee until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh, trying to get the bottom of the foot parallel with the ceiling. Always extend the leg and straighten the knee only until the stretch is comfortable.
  • Hold the position initially for 10 seconds, and gradually work up to 30 seconds.

Try this stretch with each leg, one at a time, 4 to 5 times for one complete set. Aim to perform 2 sets daily.

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

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Wall hamstring stretch

This stretch is performed at the corner of a wall or near a couch:

  • Keeping one leg on the floor, place the other leg against a wall or arm of a couch.
  • Gently push the knee so that the raised leg is as straight as tolerable.
  • Hold the position initially for 10 seconds, and gradually work up to 30 seconds.

Perform this stretch with each leg, one at a time, 4 to 5 times for one complete set. Aim to perform 2 sets daily.

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

Hamstring Stretches While Sitting

Stretching while in a seated position is less gentle than lying on the back. While using a sitting position, the degree of stretch must be adjusted based on the pain level. An important part of this technique is to avoid rounding the lower back; instead, fold forward at the hip.

Seated hamstring stretch

To stretch the hamstrings while sitting, follow these steps:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair, straighten one leg in front of the body with the heel on the floor.
  • Straighten the spine by sitting tall and rolling the pelvis forward.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.

Repeat 3 times for each leg. Aim to perform this exercise twice daily.

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

Hamstring stretch on the edge of a bed

For this stretch, sit on the edge of a bed and:

  • Lay one leg along the edge of the bed while the other leg is placed down with the foot resting on the floor.
  • Bend forward at the hip, keeping the spine straight.
  • Try to keep the leg on the bed as straight as possible without pain.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.

Repeat 3 times for each leg. Aim to perform this exercise twice daily.

Stretching the hamstrings along the edge of a bed or bench is easy and helps maintain stability in the lower back and pelvis.

Advanced seated hamstring stretch

For this stretch, use two chairs and follow these steps:

  • Sit straight on a chair with the shoulders rolled back and the spine in a normal position.
  • Raise one foot up onto the seat of the other chair and straighten the leg.
  • A stretch will be felt in the hamstring as well as the leg’s calf muscles.
  • Inhale to lengthen the spine. While exhaling, bend the trunk forward over the straightened leg. If this position causes leg and/or back pain, stop immediately.
  • Hold the stretch for 5 to 15 seconds.

Repeat with the opposite leg. Aim to perform this exercise twice daily.

The advanced seated hamstring stretch provides a deeper stretch for the hamstring muscles and can be done using two chairs.

Hamstring Stretches While Standing

Stretching the hamstrings while standing may provide a deeper stretch, so they must be performed with caution and using correct posture, especially for beginners. Once learned, these stretches can be performed at any place and do not require a chair or other assistive devices. A standing hamstring stretch may also be more suitable when lying down, sitting, and/or getting up may be difficult due to an injury or during pregnancy.

Standing hamstring stretch

Perform this stretch while standing near a step, stair, or raised surface by following these steps:

  • Extend one leg out by placing the heel on a slightly raised surface, such as a stair or curb.
  • Keeping the spine straight, bend at the hip to bring the chest toward the thigh.
  • The other leg that is not being stretched will also bend slightly at the knee.
  • Hold this stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.

Repeat 3 times for each leg. Aim to perform this exercise twice daily.

Stretching while standing may provide a deeper hamstring stretch.
Watch:
Standing Hamstring Stretch for Low Back Pain Relief Video

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At all times, it is essential to avoid the common error of rounding the lower back while bending forward. Instead, fold forward at the hips. Because this maneuver is difficult for many people, hamstring stretches that involve folding forward are often best done under the guidance of a physical therapist or other spine specialist.

See Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Hamstring stretches are easy to perform and can be done at home, in office, or at the gym or park. Keeping the hamstrings elongated and flexible can help stabilize and support the spine, preventing sciatic nerve root irritation and lower back pain. It is important to note that stretches must always be performed within tolerable limits. If pain is felt in the lower back and/or legs, consult a doctor.

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