Figure Four Stretch: How to Stretch the Piriformis Muscle

Figure Four Stretch

The Figure Four stretch is one of my all-time favourite piriformis muscle stretches to do, especially for lower back pain and sciatica relief.

This is a great lower back exercise to help relieve muscle tension from sitting too long at a desk. It is perfect for when I see someone come into the clinic with a dull ache in their lower back, say from a long car drive, or maybe from sitting for too long in a meeting, plane or train. In these situations is the best time to perform this type of hip stretch.

What Muscle Does Does the Figure of Four Stretch?

The Figure of Four stretch technique aims to stretch the piriformis muscle and other hip external rotation muscle in the buttock.

What is The Piriformis Muscle?

The piriformis muscle runs from your triangle-shaped bone in your pelvis called the sacrum out to the top of your hip bone at a point called the greater trochanter. The action of the piriformis muscle is to help externally rotate your hip when walking. This is why runners can develop lower back pain, hip pain, buttock pain diagnosed as piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis Muscle
The Piriformis Muscle

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

Piriformis syndrome is a neuromuscular condition that occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed and irritated by the piriformis muscle.

There are lots of other muscles in your bum. The piriformis muscle is just one of the buttock muscles.

The reason why particular this buttock muscle gets so much attention is because the sciatic nerve passes near it causing a trapped nerve in back pain condition called piriformis syndrome.

Symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome can cause:

  • An ache or pain in the affected buttock region (left buttock or right buttock)
  • Referred pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot following the innervation path of the sciatic nerve, like sciatica.

This type of lower back pain can mimic other back pain conditions like:

How to Perform the Figure Four Stretch

The Figure of Four piriformis muscle stretch can be done in three different positions:

  1. Seated on a chair,
  2. Laying on your back,
  3. Standing.

This back pain exercise can be a great home treatment tool to start doing now.

It is so easy to do that you could be sitting at your office desk and stretching your back and hip without anyone knowing your stretching.

Watch the three how to videos below, which will show you how to perform the stretch correctly.

1. Seated Figure Four Stretch

Steps to do for a good seated figure of four stretch:

  1. Put your right or left leg with the ankle on top of the other knee whilst sitting,
  2. Have your shin in a straight line under the knee not with a foot ahead of you,
  3. You might need to sit in the middle to the front of a seat,
  4. Very important to sit-up straight creating a long spine,
  5. Lean forward with a straight back toward your calf muscle
  6. You should feel a stretch on the side of the top leg.

As you can see in the first video when doing the muscle stretch it is important not to round your lower back. Keeping a lengthened, straight spine allows you to isolate the piriformis muscle at the hip joint.

The general rule with stretching is to hold the stretch in a comfortable stretch position for 30 sec maybe repeat 2-3 times and do this throughout the day.

At a desk you can hide the leg underneath the desk and still lean forward which makes you look like your reading the computer screen. As a bonus, sitting up tall fixes a slouched posture from sitting at the desk too long. This is why I also use it as an upper body posture exercise.

2. Laying Down Figure Four Stretch

Steps to do for a good laying on your back figure of four stretch:

  1. Lay on your back on a comfortable floor
  2. Place your affected sides ankle just above your other knee
  3. Slowly bring the straight, non-affected leg up towards your chest
  4. This is when you might already feel a gently stretch in the affected bum cheek
  5. Reach to to interlock your fingers behind the non-affected leg you have brought up towards your chest
  6. Gently pull the leg up closer to you to increase the strecth sensation to the desired level

You probably seen people in the stretch area of gym do this one or on a sports field warm-up.

3. Standing Figure of Four Stretch

Steps to do for a good standing figure of four stretch:

  1. Stand somwhere you can hold onto something safley with one hand
  2. Place your affected sides ankle just above your other knee
  3. Place your hand or hands on something to keep your balance
  4. Slowly lower down towards the floor by squating the straight, non-affected leg
  5. This is when you might already feel a gently stretch in the affected side bum cheek
  6. Squat down as far as you feel comfortable
  7. Try not slouch your lower back and keep an upright chest to feel an even more intense stretch

This is a good way for how to stretch on a plane at the back of the cabin, or when needing a quick stretch from standing all day.