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The sacroiliac joint is where the lower part of the spine (sacrum) connects with the ilium of the pelvis. It is a very strong joint which acts a shock absorbing structure and transmits forces of the upper body to the hips and legs.
The joint has very little motion and it is thought that the cause of pain is a change in the amount of motion; either too little or too much. If there is too much movement in the joint then pain can be felt in the lower back and sometimes the hips and groin. When there is too little movement the pain is typically felt on one side of the lower back or buttocks. The pain can be felt down the leg but usually not below the knee. The symptoms are similar to other causes of back pain such as sciatica or slipped disc in the lower back; making it difficult to correctly diagnose sacroiliac joint dysfunction. One of the ways in which it can be diagnosed is to use a pain relieving injection on the joint. If this removes the pain then the clinician knows that the SI joint is the cause of the pain. This injection is also a method used to treat the symptoms of the condition.
Treatment for sacro iliac joint dysfunction is usually non-surgical and aims to restore normal motion at the joint. To ease the initial pain ice and rest would be recommended, this process may last from two days to two weeks. After the initial, sharp pain has lessened a gradual return to normal activity can begin. At this point heat may help in the recovery process. If the joint’s movement is reduced and it is ‘stuck’, then chiropractic manipulation and physiotherapy may help to restore normal joint movement. Physiotherapists should be able to give exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. Low impact, aerobic exercise may also be prescribed to help with blood flow to the joint. The use of a supportive belt is often recommended to stabilise the joint. In cases where the pain is not relieved by non-surgical methods there is the option to fuse the joint.
There is little that can be done to prevent SI joint dysfunction and for many people it is part of the ageing process. Cartilage protecting the bones of the joint are damaged or worn away over time, causing pain in the region. However, maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping active can reduce the loads on the joint and slow down cartilage damage.