SI Joint Pain: Causes and Symptoms
Do you experience pain when you stand up out of a chair? Do you feel a dull or sharp pain in your lower back? You may be experiencing Sacroiliac Joint (SI) pain. This condition is very common - in fact, 15-30% of people who suffer from this kind of pain have joint problems they may not know about.
The good news is that there are numerous treatments available to relieve you of this pain. But what is the SI Joint? And what causes this kind of pain?
What is the Sacroiliac Joint?
The sacroiliac joints are in your lower back, sitting on both sides of your spine. Their main job is to carry the weight of your upper body when you stand, walk, or shift your weight to your legs.
Although the pain typically starts in your lower back, it often moves to your buttocks, thighs, or upper back.
Causes of Sacroiliac Joint Pain
Because the SI joints carry the weight of your upper body, there are multiple causes for why you experience pain.
- Traumatic Injury - An injury like a fall or being in a car accident are common reasons for having SI joint pain. The force from this kind of injury strains the ligaments around the joint. If the ligaments aren’t treated correctly, they can tear and loosen the SI joints. When the joints move around too much from being loose, the SI joint can cause chronic pain.
- Arthritis - A specific kind of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis affects the spine. It causes pain in your hips and buttocks.
- Pregnancy - Women have a higher chance of experiencing SI joint pain during pregnancy and childbirth. The same hormones that prepare the pelvis for childbirth loosen ligaments around the SI joint. This causes aches and pains that are common in pregnancy. The added weight during pregnancy also affects your SI joint.
Symptoms of Sacroiliac Joint Pain
SI joint pain can be hard to tell apart from other types of lower back pain. Because the pain can spread to your upper back, thighs, and buttocks, the pain could be confused with other conditions.
The main symptoms to look for are:
- Lower back pain
- Thigh pain
- Discomfort and pain after sitting
- Hip/Buttocks pain
It’s common to have after sitting for a long time, but SI joint pain also happens after running, climbing stairs, or taking large strides.
Diagnosing Sacroiliac Joint Pain
SI joint pain can disguise itself as different types of pain, like a herniated disc or facet joint arthritis. Doctors perform a series of tests to determine if you are suffering form SI Joint Syndrome. Pain during these tests helps the doctors learn more about where the pain is coming from.
Tests might include a variety of physical tests where the doctor will put stress and pressure on the joint to see if there is soreness or tenderness.
Doctors may also order diagnostic tests to confirm the source of your pain. These test are often joint injections to confirm the root of your pain and imaging like X-Rays or MRIs are used to see a detailed image of soft tissue and bone.
Treatment Options for SI Joint Syndrome
Treatments for SI joint pain focus on reducing pain and restoring the full range of motion in the joint. Pain is treated with non-surgical options, only using surgery if the pain persists.
Common treatments are:
Physical Therapy - Physical therapists create a specific program focused on your pain and discomfort. Their goal is to help you restore your quality of life, get back to doing your favorite activities, and to manage your pain on a daily basis. Physical therapy trains your body to strengthen the ligaments and joints.
Pelvic Brace - A supportive brace is helpful if your SI joint is loose. Wearing a brace that is tight helps reduce inflammation and supports your joints that are painful.
SI Joint Infections - Cortisone injections are used to reduce pain and calm inflammation. They can relieve pain for several weeks or months.
Electrical Stimulation - TENS therapy (electrical stimulation) is used by transmitting electric signals through the nerve tissue to your joints and muscles around the painful area.
Heat or Ice - This at-home pain reliever is a great way to temporarily reduce pain, tensions, and inflammation to the joint.
Doctors may recommend multiple treatment options until they find a combination that works for your pain. Pain is different for everyone, so it’s important to find a doctor who creates an individualized treatment that fits your needs and lifestyle.