What is Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction?
The sacroiliac joint is a joint between the sacrum and the ilium, or pelvic bone. The 2 sides of the sacroiliac joint normally work together. If 1 side becomes stiff, they will not move together and this causes pain or muscle stiffness in the area. Pain is often made worse with walking and bending activities. It is also possible that 1 side may become too loose (lax) as well, resulting in SIJ dysfunction. This may occur during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy due to hormonal changes that cause the ligaments to become more lax. SIJ dysfunction can occur with injury, such as when a person falls and lands on 1 side of the body and alters the position of the joint, or when an athlete overtrains. Muscle imbalances and hip problems, such as hypermobility or dysplasia, may also lead to SIJ dysfunction. Sacroiliac pain is also related to some types of arthritis, such as ankylosingspondylitis, an inflammatory process most often affecting the lower back, which may cause the vertebrae to fuse.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Your physical therapist will design a targeted treatment program based on your evaluation and your goals for a safe return to sport or daily activities. Treatment may include:
- Manual therapy. Often, manual therapy for SIJ dysfunction includes soft tissue release or massage for tight and sore muscle groups. Manual therapy and muscle energy techniques (MET) are used to correct pelvic/SIJ alignment. MET uses your own muscle contractions to realign the position of the pelvis, and can be a source of pain relief. Joint mobilizations/manual therapy uses gentle movements to improve mobility of the hip, SIJ, and low back.
- Flexibility exercises. Stretching exercises may be prescribed to improve the flexibility of tight muscles. They may also help to improve movement in the spine and lower extremities, and help decrease stress at the sacroiliac joint during daily activities.
- Strengthening exercises. Strengthening helps to improve the stability of the sacroiliac and spinal joints, which helps to reduce ligament strain and pain.These exercises are focused on weak muscles, including the lower abdominal, pelvic floor, and buttocks muscles.
- Body mechanics. How you move and use your body for daily work and other activities can contribute to your SIJ dysfunction and pain. Your physical therapist will teach you how to improve your movements or body mechanics based on your specific daily activities. The physical therapist may also make recommendations to improve activities, such as sitting, or lifting and carrying objects.
- Modalities. Hot and cold treatments are often prescribed to loosen up tight muscles prior to treatment, or to alleviate pain following exercise. Electrical stimulation uses electricity to target nerve fibers that send pain signals to the brain, and may also be used in conjunction with ice to provide pain relief.
- Braces. Your physical therapist may also recommend wearing a sacroiliac belt, designed to provide support to the sacroiliac joints. It is used to provide stability during daily activities as your strength returns, and flexibility improves. This modality is especially helpful for pregnant women.
All treatments prescribed by the physical therapist will be based on your specific case.
How Does it Feel?
People with SIJ dysfunction may experience:
- Pain that may be sharp, stabbing or dull, localized to 1 side of the pelvis/low back, groin, or tailbone.
- Pain that may radiate down to the knee.
- Pain with movements, such as standing up from a sitting position, turning in bed, or bending/twisting.
- Muscle tightness and tenderness in the hip/buttock region.
- Pain with walking, standing, and prolonged sitting.
- Pain that is worse when standing and walking, and eases when sitting or lying down.