Straight leg raising is particularly effective for lower back pain accompanied by referred or radiating pain in the buttock and down your leg. This is a difficult stretch to do by yourself, and it is best if someone is there to assist. Getting help with this stretch allows you to relax the surrounding muscles and let your assistant do the work. This stretch is designed to loosen muscles in the lower back, buttock, and hamstring (back of your thigh). It can have the added benefit of decompressing the large sciatic nerve that may be entrapped or irritated by surrounding tissues and is often associated with referred or radiating leg pain.
Start by lying flat on your back on the floor, couch, or bed. Use a thin pillow to support your neck. Have your assistant reach down and grab underneath the ankle of the affected leg. Keeping your unaffected leg straight or slightly bent at the knee, have your assistant slowly start to raise the affected leg a few inches off the floor. Try to stay as relaxed as possible and let your helper do the work. This is usually a painful and difficult stretch that requires great patience and a little courage. Initially, your assistant should only raise the leg four to five inches, or to a point where you feel significant pulling and stretching in your back and hamstring muscles. Have your helper hold your leg in that position for ten seconds and then gently lower it again. If necessary, take a few deep breaths, and then keep repeating this procedure, each time trying to get your straight leg raised a few inches higher. For the first two or three days, you may only get your leg to a 30- or 45-degree elevation. Within a week to ten days, you may be able to get to a 60- to 75-degree elevation without much pain.
Although straight leg raising is most effective when you can stretch passively with a helper, there are two variations you can try if you are by yourself. First, sitting up and holding one end of a long belt, rope, or stretch band in each hand, lean forward and place the middle of the rope on the bottom of your foot. Now lie back, and keeping your leg straight, pull on the rope to slowly elevate your straight leg off the floor. When you feel moderate pulling and stretching in your back and hamstring muscles, hold your leg in that position for ten seconds and then gently place it back on the floor. Repeat the procedure, each time trying to raise your leg a few inches farther off the floor.