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Pain related to sciatica or sacroiliac (SI) joint issues can be incredibly uncomfortable and frustrating. The active figure-stretch is a convenient fix because you can do it as part of the activity that most commonly irritates the sciatic nerve and deep hip rotators: sitting. When done correctly, the figure-4 stretch not only helps relieve the hip tightness that compresses and irritates the sciatic nerve, but it can also help keep SI joints moving properly.

Could this help you?

Virtually anyone who sits a lot can benefit from this stretch. It’s especially helpful if you struggle with sciatic nerve issues or you have a tight lower back due to stuck SI joints.

What you’ll need

This stretch should be done on a flat chair or some other flat surface that enables you to position your legs at a 90-degree angle.

Goals

Help the deep hip rotator muscles, including the piriformis and super gemellus, relax and stabilize to alleviate pressure on your spine and/or SI joint(s)

Exercise overview

This stretch gets its name from the position of your legs during the stretch. It involves resting the ankle of one leg just behind the knee of the other leg and then hinging forward with a straight spine from the hips. For many people, just the initial hinge will provide a stretch and some relief.

If you feel comfortable doing more, then you can make the stretch active by moving your hips forward and backward. When you feel a satisfying stretch in your hips (and no discomfort in your lower back), you know you are on the right track. See the video below for a demonstration.

Frequency and tips

You can perform this stretch multiple times throughout the day as needed.Aim for 10,15 reps of moving your hip forward and backward, when doing the active version.

Sit tall and keep your back straight and hinge forward from your hips.

If you can tolerate it, make the stretch active by moving your knee forward and backward (but don’t push or pull on them with your hands)

Bonus: You can also do this stretch standing. Just be sure to find something to balance against and follow the same principles of keeping your back straight and actively moving your knee forward and backward (relative to the angle of your body). Your shoulders should remain stable during the active parts of the stretch.

How to stay safe

  • Be sure to keep your legs at 90 degrees. Sitting on a chair or surface that is too low will cause your back to round, which could irritate your sciatica further and eliminate the benefits of the stretch itself.
  • Don’t pull or push on your knee with your hands because it could cause a knee injury. Aim to keep the upper leg fairly level.
  • If you do the standing version, make sure you have something to hold on to.
  • Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise.

We’re here to help

The figure-4 stretch is a safe way to keep sciatica and other issues related to tight hips from getting overly painful and distracting. Best of all it’s convenient because you can easily do it at home, work or virtually wherever you are. If you have questions about the figure-4 stretch or would like some coaching on doing it properly, we’d be happy to provide guidance during your next visit.