The sacroiliac joint is located at the junction of the spine and the pelvis. It functions as a shock absorber that cushions against the force of your upper body. At least 15% of patients with low back pain will actually have sacroiliac joint pain.
There are many causes of sacroiliac joint pain. Most commonly, the pain is due to abnormal motion. The joint is stabilized by multiple muscles, including the gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, hamstrings, and back extensors. If these muscles are weak or out of sync, it will cause abnormal motion and lead to pain. Less common sources of sacroiliac joint pain include arthritis, fracture, infection and pregnancy.
Sacroiliac joint pain is most commonly felt off to one side in the lower back. Occasionally both joints can be painful, in which case the entire lower back will hurt. Because multiple nerves supply the sacroiliac joint, the pain can be referred along those nerves to other parts the legs. The most common site of referred pain is the buttocks, but the groin, thighs, calves and feet may also be involved.
Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications are the mainstays of treatment for sacroiliac joint pain. Strengthening of the joint-stabilizing muscles helps to restore its proper motion and shock absorption properties. Anti-inflammatory medications are effective in controlling the symptoms. Manual therapy with manipulation also plays a role in treatment. In more severe cases, a steroid injection into the joint is helpful.
When non-operative therapy is ineffective, there is a surgical option called a sacroiliac joint fusion. This involves inserting metallic implants across the joint and stimulating the bones to fuse together. Surgery is always the final option, but the procedure is effective in appropriately selected patients.
In summary, sacroiliac joint pain is common and often mistaken for low back pain. While it can be debilitating, there are multiple effective treatment options. If you are suffering from sacroiliac joint pain, don’t despair! We are here to help!
Nicholas O. Schroeder, MD
Dr. Schroeder's primarily focused on diagnosing and treating spine conditions with the latest minimally invasive techniques. Dr. Schroeder is one of the few orthopedic surgeons specifically trained in conditions of the low back and the entire spine.