Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction: Strategies for Pain Relief

November 05, 2019

A woman is doing bridge exercise to prevent SI Joint pain
Rasheed Huma

If your back has been hurting lately after sitting at your desk for hours, it could be because of a malfunction of your sacroiliac (SI) joint.  

While the SI joint represents a significant source of low back pain, the SI joint dysfunction (SIJD) often goes undiagnosed. People with SIJD may spend months or even years before receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment.

From the lower back, the SI joint pain often moves to your hips down to the back of your thigh and groin, and rarely down the lower leg, mimicking a sciatic nerve pain. Hence, it’s easy to get bogged down in locating the actual source of pain.

What is the SI Joint?

There are two SI joints, one on each side of the sacrum. They are formed by the fusion of the triangular bone, sacrum that makes the base of your spine with a wing-like bone of your pelvis called ilium. Their main function is to transfer weight between your torso (upper body) and legs.

What is SI Joint Dysfunction?

Normally, the SI joint allows for minimal movement. However, sometimes, the joint may move either too much or too little, signaling its dysfunction.

Hypermobility, or too much movement of the SI joint, is due to the loosening of ligaments that hold the joint. Hypomobility, or too little movement, can be a result of over-tightening of the ligaments or muscles as seen in inflammation. Aging can also stiffen the muscles around your SI joint, impeding its movement.

Contrary to some myths, we humans were beautifully designed to stand erect. Dysfunction occurs, not just during lifting, but when we lean forward or sleep on our sides with one leg pulled further up as compared to the other. These movements cause your pelvis to tilt sideways. The result is a leg length discrepancy when you walk or stand in which one leg is shorter than the other, straining your lower back and SI joints.

SI joint pain can restrict your mobility, hindering your day-to-day activities. Sitting on the affected side, in particular, can become overly challenging. Don't let the SI joint dysfunction take control of your life! Implement a plan for treating the pain and the mechanical error right away.

Treat the acute pain

Exercise can do more harm than good without treating acute pain at first. Therefore, try resting, icing, or heating your back at least 3 to 4 times a day. It’s also wise to take a break from any sporting activity temporarily and touch base with your doctor for an adequate pain-relief prescription.

Exercise to Counter SI Joint pain

Once the acute pain is under control, you may begin physical therapy or some form of exercise. Your physical therapist (PT) can teach you a couple of exercises to strengthen the muscles around your SI joint. You’ll also learn the right movements to bend, lift, and do other activities.

It’s always best to consult your PT before trying out any form of exercise. If you feel instability, then you may also want to use a sacroiliac belt to support your pelvis ad hoc.

Getting and staying active will eventually help tame your SI joint pain. Here are some effective sacroiliac joint dysfunction exercises.

1. Core Bridge Exercise

Strong ligaments and muscles like the “hip glutes” stabilize your SI joint. Studies show that the weakness of the glute muscle (glute max) can cause the SI joint to act up. Hence, strengthening this muscle to curb SI joint pain makes sense.

Physical therapists refer to this exercise as “Bridge.”

How to do?

  • Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet placed flat on the floor with your arms at your sides.
  • Using your heels, push your feet into the floor while you lift your hips off the floor, so that your torso and thighs are raised and leveled in a straight line.
  • Focus on your hip and lower back muscles.
  • Be sure not to hold your breath or go too high.
  • Squeeze your hips. Hold this position for 10 seconds and slowly lower your body to the floor.
  • Aim for 10 repetitions.
  • Ensure that your glutes and tummy muscles are tightened during this posture to attain an accurate bridge form.

How does it help?

Through this exercise, you’re engaging your buttock and lower back muscles to improve the stability of your SI Joint.

2. Hollowing

Hollowing is an exercise to contract (activate) your transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle. TVA is the main core stabilizing muscle of the lumbar spine that also serves to stabilize your sacroiliac joint.

How to do?

To perform this technique:

  • Lie down straight.
  • Contract your abdomen and draw your belly button back toward your spine.
  • Maintain an isometric hold of this posture for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat.

How does it help?

TVA wraps around your upper body in a way that when you contract it, the muscle tightens like a corset. Research reveals that tightening of the TVA muscle, in turn, provides considerable support for unstable sacroiliac joints.

Bonus Tip:

Try these exercises later during the day because SI joint pain is usually worse in the morning and gets better during the day. However, always be cautious while doing these exercises to avoid straining your back muscles.

Convert your Regular Workstation

Sitting on the affected side can become extra problematic with SIJD. Another tip that may help relieve your SI joint pain is to refrain from sitting at your desk all day.

Try investing in a standing desk converter. The FlexiSpot’s ClassicRiser Standing Desk Converters available in 4 different sizes could be an ideal option. These can help prevent you from being sedentary, thereby minimizing your risk of SI joint pain.

Remember, slow and steady wins the race. We, therefore, suggest starting slowly, taking breaks from standing — and if you don’t notice any pain, continuing to add more time to stand up.

Try Sacroiliac Joint Blocks

Ask your doctor about injecting a local anesthetic and a steroid medication into your SI joint to relieve the pain and joint inflammation. SI joint injection is shown to provide prolonged pain relief for people suffering from SIJD.

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