How to Do a Straight Leg Raise

Simple Exercise Used for Therapeutic and Diagnostic Purposes

If you've ever had a serious hip injury or have undergone hip surgery, you will likely to be referred to a physical therapist to help you recover. As part of your recovery, you will perform a series of exercises aimed at strengthing the leg and restoring its full range of motion (ROM). One of the foundational exercises is the straight leg raise.

The straight leg raise is one of the first exercises done after hip or knee replacement surgery. It is easy to perform and gently stresses the hip joint as the ROM is gradually increased. It can be taught by the physical therapist, after which you can continue to do it on your own at home.

The straight leg raise is also used by doctors and physical therapists to assess lumbar spine impingement, herniated discs, and sciatic pain. It can help differentiate injuries of the hip from that of the lumbar spine.

Instructions

You need no special equipment needed to do a straight leg raise other than space where you can lie on your back freely. From start to finish, the exercise takes around five minutes complete and is usually performed with other complementary exercises three to four times per day.

It is often better to do the straight leg raise on a carpeted floor than a soft bed. Soft surfaces can compromise the position of your hips, allowing them to twist or sink rather than remaining neutral.

To start the straight leg raise:

  1. Lie on your back with your hips square and your legs laid out comfortably on the floor.
  2. Bend the knee of your non-injured leg at a 90-degree angle, planting the foot flatly on the floor.
  3. Stabilize the muscles on your straight leg by contracting your quadriceps (the group of muscles on the front of your thigh).
  4. Inhaling slowly, lift the straight leg six inches off the ground.
  5. Hold for three seconds.
  6. Exhaling slowly, lower the leg to the floor with control
  7. Relax and repeat 10 times more.

When done correctly, you will feel the tension in your hip, thigh, and abdomen throughout the movement.

Variations

To make the straight leg raise more challenging, add a small cuff weight to your leg. Start by placing the weight on your thigh, lowering it to your ankle as you get stronger. This helps to decrease torque around your hip and knee and protect them from injury. Your physical therapist can help determine the right weight for you.

This straight leg raise can be challenging but should not cause pain. If it does, stop and call your doctor or physical therapist.

Until you are stronger, you may have to perform different exercises that don't stress the hips so directly. These may include:

  • Isometric gluteal medius exercises
  • Quadruped hip extension
  • Prone straight leg raise
  • Wall slides
  • Side raises with resistance bands

Diagnostic Testing

In addition to its therapeutic application, the straight leg raise can be used diagnostically to evaluate the strength and stability of your leg. The exercise is performed passively as the doctor or physical therapist lifts your leg while you are lying on your back on an examining table.

The straight leg raise test (SLRT) can be used to diagnose and differentiate joint or neuromuscular disorders. It is mainly used to determine whether low back pain is caused by disc herniation in the lumbar spine

To perform the SLRT, each leg is tested individually with the normal leg lifted first. To begin:

  1. You would lie on your back without a pillow under your head.
  2. Both legs would be extended in front of you with your hips squarely positioned.
  3. The practitioner would lift your injured leg by the back of the ankle until you complain of tightness or pain.
  4. The injured leg would be lowered.
  5. The practitioner would then lift the non-injured leg to see how high it can be raised.

The test can help the practitioner determine if there is hip pain or a pinched nerve (radiculopathy) in the lumbosacral region of the spine.

If you experience sciatic pain when your leg is lifted 30 to 70 degrees, lumbosacral radiculopathy can be positively diagnosed. If not, the pain is likely related to the hip, buttocks, or other causes.

The SLRT is also known as the Lasègue's sign. The test was named after the 19th-century physician, Ernest-Charles Lasègue, who introduced the test as a means to confirm sciatica and lumbar disc problems.

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Article Sources

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  3. Pande K. The Use of Passive Straight Leg Raising Test: A Survey of CliniciansMalays Orthop J. 2015;9(3):44–48. doi:10.5704/MOJ.1511.012


  4. Homayouni K, Jafari SH, Yari H. Sensitivity and Specificity of Modified Bragard Test in Patients With Lumbosacral Radiculopathy Using Electrodiagnosis as a Reference StandardJ Chiropr Med. 2018;17(1):36–43. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2017.10.004


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Additional Reading

  • Kamath SU, Kamath SS. Lasègue’s Sign. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 May;11(5): RG01-RG02. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2017/24899.9794.