Plenty of people experience lower back pain. Though, one of the most common causes of lower back pain originates from injuries to the sacroiliac joint (SI joint) and its associated ligaments.
About sacroiliac joint dysfunction
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction typically occurs when the sacroiliac joint becomes inflamed or damaged. To understand how an inflamed sacroiliac joint may cause lower back pain, it’s also important to understand how the sacroiliac joint works.
The sacroiliac joint connects the pelvic bone (the ileum) to the spine’s lowest part, also known as the sacrum. Two sacroiliac joints exist in that areas, and both reside on each side of the sacrum.
These joints are actually pretty strong, although they’re small. They’re strong enough to provide the structural stability and support that the spine needs to function right.
They also work as shock absorbers for the lower back and pelvis, allowing the forces of the upper body to properly disperse without harming the rest of the region.
When a sacroiliac joint unexpectedly gets injured and/or irritated, the resultant joint dysfunction is known to cause pain within the lower back and the rest of the legs.
Why sacroiliac joint dysfunction occurs
There’s a reason why your inflamed sacroiliac joint leads to sacroiliac joint dysfunction, which subsequently leads to lower back pain and leg pain.
In most cases, the sacroiliac joints start feeling painful when a sudden alternation in their normal function occurs.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction may develop if:
- Too many changes in sacroiliac joint movement occur, whether too much (hypermobility) or too little (hypomobility).
- Abnormal motions, such as those from work or sports, directly injure the joints via straining or over-stretching their corresponding ligaments.
- Direct trauma, like injuries, causes the sacroiliac joint’s ligaments to become strained, sprained and/or outright injured.
Any changes to the mobility of the sacroiliac joints plays a direct role in causing sacroiliac joint dysfunction. While it’s not always the main cause of lower back pain, it presents one reason why people might feel pain in the first place.
The symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction
So, now that we’ve reviewed some causes behind sacroiliac joint dysfunction, let’s look at the symptoms of the condition.
The most common symptoms occur as soon as a person moves around, particularly when they put their lower back into action.
Many of the symptoms are associated with symptoms from other conditions that cause lower back pain, so it’s more or less difficult to diagnose sacroiliac joint dysfunction without a full examination.
The symptoms generally include:
- Mild to sharp pain in the lower back
- Mild to sharp pain in the buttocks, thighs or the rest of the legs
- Difficulty sitting in one place for a long period of time
- Difficulty standing in one place for a long period of time
Sometimes, the pain gets aggravated by bending at the waist. When the pain grows to be severe, it starts affecting several areas at once, including the leg, groin and the hips.
On an interesting note, the pain originating from sacroiliac joint dysfunction is said to feel much like pain originating from forms of sciatica, a type of pain affecting the body due to an inflamed sciatic nerve.
This condition is more common in younger and middle-aged women, mainly due to childbirth. During pregnancy, female hormones release within the body to allow the connective tissues to significantly relax and, subsequently, allows the pelvis to stretch enough for birthing.
The stretching of the pelvic causes the sacroiliac joints to change, making them hypermobile. During pregnancy, the changes in the sacroiliac joints cause discomfort for women.
Over time, the wear and tear of these changes causes both sacroiliac joints to wear down.
Treatments for sacroiliac joint dysfunction
Luckily, medical research on sacroiliac joint dysfunction is plentiful enough to give doctors options for treating the condition.
The following sections of this article will cover a few of those treatments. Treatments for sacroiliac joint dysfunction typically focus on helping restore normal function to an inflamed sacroiliac joint.
Heat and/or ice with rest
The most common treatment is placing a hot or cold compress against the sacroiliac joint region. Either compress should be applied for 15 to 20 minute intervals to help reduce the inflammation and irritation in the area.
It typically takes days to weeks of hot or cold compress application to subside pain. In most cases, cold compresses are better, while hot compresses are best suited for milder bouts of pain.
Resting the inflamed sacroiliac joints also helps them recover, and that usually involves limiting movement during the recovery process.
Doctors also prescribe medications for treating inflamed sacroiliac joints. Pain medications are the most common.
They typically include over-the-counter and prescription painkillers (like acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatory medications (like naproxen and ibuprofen) to help subside any swelling associated with the pain.
Some cases of sacroiliac joint inflammation may need chiropractic treatments to help subside pain. This typically applies to patients who may have a ‘stuck’ or fixated sacroiliac joint, in addition to cases where the sacroiliac joints are hypermobile.
Chiropractors, osteopathic doctors and other licensed health practitioners typically perform chiropractic methods like side-posture manipulation, blocking techniques and other instrument guided methods to help reduce and eliminate pain.
Supports or braces for sacroiliac joints
Sometimes, when the sacroiliac joints are too hypermobile or loose, the patient may need an orthotic to help stabilize them.
Supports or braces for treating sacroiliac joint pain typically come in the form of a wide belt. They wrap around the waist and secure snugly around the area to keep it stabilized.
Gradual and controlled physical therapy helps strengthen the muscles around both sacroiliac joints, while also increasing their range of motion. This helps both sacroiliac joints heal after the initial bout of swelling and pain heals.
Low impact, gentle aerobic exercise helps stimulate blood flow in the sacroiliac joint’s area, helping the entire area heal better over time. Alternative methods, like water therapy, may help relieve severe pain.
Injections for sacroiliac joint pain relief
People with severe pain may be administered sacroiliac joint injections to immediately subside pain.
The injections typically consist of an anti-inflammatory medication like a corticosteroid to help reduce any inflammation around both sacroiliac joints. As a result, it helps immediately alleviate any associated pain.