Sacroiliac Joint Pain

physiotherapist don mills and steeles

By: Avie Khalili and Dustin Ng

PT Students

If you suffer from low back and hip pain, it could be a symptom of sacroiliac joint (SIJ) dysfunction. This condition can be debilitating and cause significant amounts of pain in your hips, lower back, and legs. Fortunately, physiotherapy is an effective treatment for SIJ pain as it helps to restore the normal movement and alignment of the joint. Let’s take a look at what causes SIJ pain and how physiotherapists can help treat it.

Overview of your sacroiliac joint

Your pelvic bone (ilium) and sacrum unite to form the all-important Sacroiliac Joint, which carries a hefty responsibility within your body. It must bear weight from both the upper and lower regions, as well as providing stability through an intricate network of ligaments enclosing it for support. Additionally, muscles along your backside, buttock area and legs also connect with this crucial joint in order to distribute force evenly throughout your physique.(Cohen 2018).

sacroiliac joint

How is SI pain different from low back pain?

SI joint pain is often difficult to distinguish from lower back pain (Cohen, 2018; Laslet, 2008). In fact, SI joint pain can often lead to lower back pain. However, there are some unique characteristics to SI joint pain. If there is an area of maximal tenderness located around the upper back part of the hip bone, this may serve as a strong indicator for SI joint pain. Also, SI joint pain is usually unilateral (Cohen, 2018). There may be pain that occurs as a result of the SI joint but is located in a different area known as referred pain (Laslet, 2008). This referred pain may be felt in the buttocks, lower back, leg, or groin. Often times the pain can increase as you try to rise from a sitting position (Cohen, 2018; Hamidi-Ravari et al., 2014).

Causes of SI joint pain

SI joint pain occurs due to injury or pathology involving the structures composing the joint. Some of the common causes are cumulative strain such as jogging with poor biomechanics, uneven leg length, pregnancy, and injury to the ligaments of the SI joint (Al-Subahi et al., 2017; Cohen, 2018). Other causes are different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis causes degeneration of the SI joint and consequently SI joint inflammation. Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation that affects the joints of the spine as well as the SI joint (Robinson et al., 2004).

Risk factors for SI joint pain

Risk factors for developing SI joint pain are: abnormal gait pattern, leg length discrepancy, obesity, heavy physical exertion, persistent strain/low-grade trauma (e.g. jogging), scoliosis, pregnancy, and sacral fusion surgery (Al-Subahi et al., 2017; Cohen, 2018). Muscle imbalances and a pelvic upslip, when one hip bone sits higher than the other, also increase the chance of developing SI joint pain.

 

Diagnosis of SI joint pain

As previously mentioned, the SI joint is surrounded by a number of structures any of which may be the source of your pain. As such, in order to confirm the presence of SI joint pain, a thorough assessment by a physiotherapist is required. This assessment will include a detailed history including past injuries along with a series of special tests. In the presence of SI joint pain, these special tests, otherwise known as provocative tests, will reproduce the pain that you feel (Robinson et al., 2004). Laslett (2008) has shown that if three or more of these tests in Figure 2 are positive by reproducing pain, then the chances of having true SI joint pain is 91%. These tests are necessary as they will be able to pinpoint the origin of the pain and rule out the other numerous structures surrounding the joint (Robinson et al., 2004). Once the SI joint has been identified as the source of the pain, your physiotherapist will be able to take the next steps towards alleviating the pain through stretches, exercises and postural changes.

 

Self-management of SI joint pain

During the acute phase of SI joint pain (1-3 days of first experiencing pain), it is recommended to avoid aggravating factors of the pain. The aggravating factors are specific to each individual, however common ones are running, skating, and any twisting movements. Your physiotherapist will assess whether an SI belt can help you. When appropriate and applied properly, these supports can reduce your pain and improve your function.  During the recovery phase (3 days – 8 weeks), it is recommended to seek physiotherapy and follow with prescribed home exercises (Hamidi-Ravari et al., 2014).

How does Physiotherapy help?

When you visit a physiotherapist for this condition they will assess your range of motion and identify any areas that are causing you discomfort. They will then create a personalized plan to improve your mobility through exercises such as stretching and strengthening. These exercises will target both flexibility and stability in order to reduce inflammation in the area as well as restore normal movement patterns for better alignment. Your physiotherapist may also use manual therapy techniques such as massage or manipulation to help relieve tension in tight muscles around the joint which can lead to reduced pain levels.(Al-Subahi et al., 2017).

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction can be an incredibly painful condition. Fortunately, there are many treatments available that can provide relief from this type of pain including physiotherapy services from experienced professionals with expertise in treating musculoskeletal issues like the sacroiliac joint. If you suffer from low back and hip pain that could be related to this condition, we'd be happy to help you recover, contact us for more information.

Sacroiliac Joint References

    1. Al-subahi, M., Alayat, M., Alshehri, A. M., Helal. O., Alhasan. H., Alalawi. A., Takrouni. A., Alfaqeh, A. (2017). The effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for sacroiliac joint dysfunction: a systematic review. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 29(9): 1689-1694.
    2. Cohen, S. P. (2018). Sacroiliac Joint Pain. Essentials of Pain Medicine, 601-612.e2. doi:10.1016/b978-0-323-40196-8.00066-8
    3. Hamidi-Ravari, B., Tafazoli, S., Chen, H., Perret, D. (2014). Diagnosis and current treatments for sacroiliac dysfunction: a review. Current Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Reports. 2(1): 48-54. doi: 10.1589/jpts.29.1689
    4. Laslet, M. (2008). Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment of the painful sacroiliac joint. Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy. 16(3): 142–152, DOI: 10.1179/jmt.2008.16.3.142
    5. Overview – Sacroiliac Joint Clinic in Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/orthopedic-surgery/sacroiliac-joint-clinic/overview
    6. Review of the aetiology, diagnosis and management of sacroiliac joint disorders. (2016, March 31). Retrieved from https://www.spinalsurgerynews.com/2016/05/review-of-the-aetiology-diagnosis-and-management-of-sacroiliac-joint-disorders/13889
    7. Robinson, H. S., Brox, J. I., Robinson, R., Bjelland, E., Solem, S., & Telje, T. (2007). The reliability of selected motion- and pain provocation tests for the sacroiliac joint. Manual Therapy, 12(1), 72-79. doi:10.1016/j.math.2005.09.004

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