Sacroiliac joint syndrome also known as sacroiliac syndrome and sacroiliac joint sprain is a common cause of back pain and is regularly treated in our chiropractic clinics.
Even though the injury causes inflammation of the sacroiliac joint, it is not the same as sacroiliitis.
The sacroiliac (SI) joints are located on either side of the spine just below waist height. Looking from behind onto somebody's back you can see two dimples on either side just below the waist. That is where the SI joints are located.
The joints are between the two pelvic (iliac) bones, which join on to the sacrum, forming the two sacroiliac or SI joints.
Inside the joint is a system of ridges and grooves. The sacral side has a concave groove and the iliac side has a convex groove, which limits the movement. The joints also have a complex system of ligaments, which further strengthen the joints.
The main function of the sacroiliac joints is to transmit forces between the upper body and the lower limbs. They are designed to withstand large stresses.
Women tend to be affected more often than men since they tend to have more flexibility of their ligaments. The SI joints tend to lose their flexibility and we are less likely to sprain our SI joints as we get older.
Until recently the main anatomical textbook in medicine did not recognise that these joints moved. The Grey's Anatomy, since some years now, state that the sacroiliac joints do move, which has been a great help in making medical doctors accept that sacroiliac joints can benefit from chiropractic treatment.
Sprains of the sacroiliac joints are caused by excessive movement, this can occur in a one-off event such as a fall or car accident or more commonly developed over time due to repetitive microtrauma.
Excessive stress on the joint capsule causes microscopic damage to the ligaments surrounding the joint. The joint then becomes inflamed and painful.
The body reacts to this by instructing the muscles to tighten up to prevent more damage but this muscle spasm tends to last for longer than it is useful, resulting in more pain.
It is common to get referred pain from the muscles that go into spasm. The most commonly involved are the piriformis, gluteal (buttock) and psoas muscles.
The chiropractor is usually able to make a diagnosis based on the history and the signs and symptoms of the condition.
Sometimes, especially if the problem is long-standing, if you have reached a certain age or if there is anything in your medical history to indicate it we may take an x-ray of the pelvis.
You cannot diagnose a sacroiliac joint sprain on an x-ray, CT or MRI scans alone. The diagnosis is made on the clinical findings - but the x-ray may help to rule out other causes and in some cases help the chiropractor determine which type of treatment is most appropriate. It can help to rule out underlying inflammatory conditions, sacroiliitis, such as Ankylosing spondylitis.
The initial healing time for a damaged ligament and muscles is between 4-6 weeks, but it ca take months before they have healed properly.
Chiropractic treatment will normally help you get comfortable quicker, but it is important to remember that the ligaments might not be fully healed even though the pain has subsided.
There are three phases of the treatment, each having specific goals which should be reached before moving to the next.
You can read in more detail about chiropractic treatment here.
If you suffer recurrent episodes of low back pain it is usually a sign of what chiropractors would refer to as a ‘functional instability'. When you get a joint or ligament sprain the healing creates scar tissue as part of the normal healing process. Scar tissue is less elastic and breaks more easily. It has also been shown that injuries leave the deeper spinal muscles weakened, permanently, even after the pain has gone. The only way to make the muscle recover is to do specific core muscle exercises.
What can I do to stop my low back pain recurring? There are many different treatments available. Recent research shows that chiropractic spinal manipulation of the type chiropractors do in combination with exercises is the most effective treatment for both acute and chronic SI joint pain.
Chiropractors advocate dealing with the underlying neurological, mechanical and muscular problems. Just relying on taking pain killers and rest does not deal with neither of these causes, so even if the pain goes away with rest it is bound to come back due to the remaining underlying weakness.
For each new episode of pain, you have you become more at risk to have another episode. Research has shown that after four episodes of pain you are more likely to suffer chronic and long-term pain.
For the best response to treatment follow your chiropractors advice as closely as possible.
These are all risk factors for developing of back pain:
So, the longer you have put up with the pain the more likely you are to become a chronic and recurrent sufferer.
The general recommendation is to make sure you get the problem diagnosed properly, have a chiropractor evaluating your core stability, have treatment if necessary and do the right type of exercise to help your problem.