Facts About The Straight Leg Raise

There are actually two different reasons and methods for performing a straight leg raise.  Many people associate the activity as simply an exercise, but it is also used by physicians as a measurement and diagnosis for certain medical conditions.

Exercising Hips And Legs

People rarely focus on how valuable our legs are to our everyday life.  Not only do these two limbs carry us everywhere we go, but they are also essential to the health of the adjoining hips.  In the increasingly sedentary lifestyles that most humans find themselves, it is necessary to ensure that our legs and hips get the strengthening workouts they require to keep them healthy and functioning properly.  One way to accomplish this is in an exercise called a straight leg raise.  Variations of the exercise are single leg raises and lying straight leg raises.  These exercises are relatively easy and good for all age groups, but especially helpful for the elderly to maintain healthy hip flexor strength and strengthens the core for better balance.  The lower back is also brought into play with this exercise.

  • Straight leg raise.  Lying on your back with arms to each side, bend one knee and keep the other knee straight.  Raise the straight leg to the same level as the bent knee and further, if possible to do without strain.  As the leg moves upward, exhale. Slowly return to the starting position. As the leg moves downward, inhale.   Perform 10 repetitions before changing leg positions; perform 10 repetitions on the second side.  Be sure to keep the lower back pressed to the floor while performing this exercise.

  • Single leg raise.  Get down on all fours, maintaining a balance between the hands and knees.  Starting with the left leg, raise the leg out to the side while bending the knee.  Kick the leg behind the body, extending the heel to the ceiling.  Return to starting position.  Repeat 10 times; switch legs.

  • Lying leg raise.  Lying flat on your back with arms to each side, slowly lift both legs, keeping the lower back against the floor with legs straight and together.  Lift legs until they are directly above hips; lower slowly to the floor.  Be sure to keep abs tight throughout the exercise. Repeat 10 times to complete one rep.  Increase reps gradually as the exercise becomes easier.

Performing repetitions of all variations of the leg raises will help to stabilize the core, strengthen abs, improve hip function, exercise the thigh muscles and stabilize the lower back.  To perform a more challenging exercise, weights can be attached to each ankle before the exercise (NOTE: start with lower weights and gradually build up to more weight as desired).  

The Straight Leg Raise Test

This test is also called either the Lasegue test or Lavarevic’s sign and is often performed to determine if an individual suffering from lower back pain or leg pain could possibly have a herniated disc that is causing the discomfort. 

The technique is quite simple; the doctor or physical therapist has the patient lie flat on their back on either a table or the floor.  With the leg kept straight, the doctor lifts the leg to approximately a 90° angle.  If pain is experienced that travels down the leg when the leg is lifted to between a 30 and 70 degree angle, the test is considered to have a “positive” result.   The leg pain felt is known as “sciatica”, and is a common symptom for herniated disc issues in the lumbar region.

This test is valuable for diagnosis since, if a herniated lumbar disc is present, it will press upon the nerve root stretched to the 30° angle of the raised leg.  If pain is felt by the patient before the leg raise reaches the 30° angle, it is not likely to be the cause of a herniated disc.  Though the test is quite simple and rudimentary, it provides valuable information for the doctor’s diagnosis.

Some doctors perform a sitting variation of this test, but many believe the results to be less sensitive than when performed on an individual in the supine position.  

There are also clinical tests called the “active” straight leg raise (ASLR) and the “passive” (PSLR).  Researchers perform these tests to evaluate the tightness of hamstring muscles and the effectiveness of stretching the muscles prior to strenuous activity.  Hamstrings are located in the back of the thigh muscles underneath the buttocks and extend down to the back of the knee, and are a frequent area of strain and injury among athletes.

Many people consider the term of straight leg raise only to be applicable during a fitness workout as a great exercise for the hips, abs and thighs.  Less known are the clinical applications of the same exercise and how the results of the tests can supply doctors with vital information on the causes of pain and discomfort in their patients.  As an individual exercise, it provides a stronger core and better flexibility, especially for the elderly who often have issues with their hips.  The clinical exercise allows doctors to properly treat their patients by focusing on the cause of their pain.  Both provide great benefits regardless of the reason they are performed.