A woman lies on an exercise mat on the floor while doing a SI joint stretch. Share on Pinterest
Evrim Ertik/Getty Images

Low back pain is a common health complaint among adults, and the risk of lower back pain increases as you get older. It’s estimated that roughly 25 percent of lower back pain cases are caused by irritation to the sacroiliac (SI) joint.

In some cases, stretching may help alleviate SI joint pain by loosening tight muscles that put extra stress on these joints. Tight muscles around your back, hips, buttocks, thigh, and core can all potentially contribute to SI joint discomfort.

In this article, we’ll walk you through 7 different moves that may help relieve tension in the muscles that support your SI joints.

You have one SI joint on each side of your lower spine. More specifically, these joints are found where the flat bone at the base of your spine (known as your sacrum) meets your ilium or hip bone.

Your SI joint is supported by various muscles and ligaments that let your body transfer energy from your legs to your body when you walk, run, or move around. These muscles and ligaments also absorb shock from your lower body and reduce compression on your spine.

There are a number of potential causes of SI joint pain. Some of the most common causes include:

SI joint pain is also common during pregnancy because your body produces more of a specific hormone called relaxin. This hormone makes your joints more elastic to allow your pelvis to widen during childbirth.

Although pregnancy is a very common cause of SI pain, the source of the pain in this case stems from hypermobility, or “too much motion.” Therefore, stretching may not be helpful if a recent pregnancy is the source of your pain.

Numerous muscles attach to your pelvis and sacrum. If any of these muscles become overly tight, they can cause changes in your movement patterns. This, in turn, can put more stress on your SI joint.

Stretching the muscles around your SI joint can potentially help you loosen up tight areas. This may help relieve tension in your lower back and make it easier to move around with less pain and discomfort.

Try to set aside some time each day to stretch. Even doing a couple of stretches for a few minutes a day can go a long way.

If you’re dealing with ongoing SI joint pain that doesn’t seem to improve with gentle stretches, you may want to visit a physical therapist. They can design a custom stretching and strengthening program to help you manage your pain.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 stretches and 2 gentle exercises you can do at home to help ease SI joint pain.

1. Knee-to-chest stretch

The knee-to-chest stretch helps elongate the muscles in your hip. If you’re having trouble reaching your knee, you can hook a strap or band behind your knee.

To do this stretch:

  1. Lie on a mat or other comfortable surface.
  2. Grab your left knee and pull it toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
  3. Hold for up to a minute, then repeat on the other side.

2. Knees-to-chest stretch

The double knee-to-chest stretch may help ease SI joint pain by reducing tension in your lower back, hamstrings, and hips. Like with the stretch above, you can try to hook a strap behind your knees if you’re having trouble reaching your knees.

To do this stretch:

  1. Lie face-up on a comfortable surface.
  2. Grab both of your knees and pull them toward your chest as far as you can. Try not to let your back come off the ground.
  3. Hold for up to a minute.

3. Figure 4 stretch

The figure 4 is a great way to target multiple muscle groups at the same time. You’ll likely feel this stretch primarily in your outer hip and glutes. You can use a strap or band if you’re having trouble reaching your knee.

To do this stretch:

  1. Lie face-up on a mat with your feet in front of you.
  2. Raise your left leg so that your hips and knee are both at roughly 90 degrees.
  3. Place your right ankle just above your left knee.
  4. Gently pull your left leg toward your chest until you feel a stretch.
  5. Hold for up to a minute and repeat on the right side.

4. Trunk rotation stretch

Trunk rotations help stretch the muscles located on the sides of your core. When performing this stretch, only twist as far as you can comfortably. Stop immediately if it hurts your lower back.

To do this stretch:

  1. Lie on the ground with your feet flat on the floor and your arms outstretched in a T-position. Your knees should be together and pointed toward the ceiling.
  2. Keep your knees together and twist to one side as far as you comfortably can.
  3. Switch to the other side and perform 10 twists on each side.

The quad stretch is a simple stretch that targets the quadriceps muscle in the front of your thigh. When stretching, don’t force your heel to your butt if it’s uncomfortable. Instead, just bring it as close to you can.

To do this stretch:

  1. Stand tall. Hold on to a chair or wall if you need help balancing.
  2. Grab your left ankle and pull your foot to your buttocks with your knee pointing downward.
  3. Hold for up to a minute and repeat on the other side

6. Adductor squeeze

The adductor squeeze isn’t a stretch. Instead, it’s a gentle exercise that can help reduce stiffness in the muscles surrounding your SI joint.

To do this exercise:

  1. Lean back with your weight on your elbows with your knees bent to about 90 degrees. Put a soft ball or similar-sized object between your knees.
  2. Squeeze the ball as hard as you comfortably can and hold for about 3 seconds.
  3. Relax and repeat for 10 repetitions.

This exercise, like the one above, isn’t a stretch, but this movement can help reduce the stiffness in the muscles surrounding your SI joint.

Try to use a relatively thin band that won’t cause discomfort in your lower back during the exercise.

To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent to about 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Put a band around your knees.
  2. Push your knees apart and pause for a moment.
  3. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

In addition to regular stretches, the following habits may also help reduce or prevent SI joint pain.

  • Limit prolonged sitting. Long periods of sitting can cause tightness and stiffness in your back which, in turn, can aggravate SI joint pain. Try to get up and move around, stretch, or take a short walk at least once every 50-60 minutes.
  • Change your sitting position. The best way to sit with SI joint pain is by keeping your hips level with each other and your “sit bones” in contact with your chair. This can prevent straining of the ligaments around your SI joint. Keep your knees slightly apart and avoid crossing your legs. Many times, it may be more comfortable for the SI joint if your hips are above your knees so as to maintain the normal curve in your back.
  • Strengthen your glutes. Research has found that glute strengthening may be helpful for people with persistent SI joint pain and weak glutes.
  • Alternate heat and cold. Try alternating heat and ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to help manage pain and stimulate blood flow.
  • See a physical therapist if your pain doesn’t improve. A physical therapist can design a custom program to help you manage your SI joint pain.

Stretching the muscles around your SI joint may help reduce pain by relieving tension in your lower back.

When stretching, it’s better to be too gentle than too aggressive. Stretching too vigorously may cause your muscles to become tighter and worsen your symptoms.

If you’re dealing with chronic SI joint pain, you may want to visit a physical therapist. They can help create a custom-designed stretching and strengthening program specifically for you.