What is SI Joint Dysfunction?
Roughly 64.5 million Americans suffer from sacroiliac (SI) joint problems: 25% of all Americans with chronic lower back pain, according to the Journal of Clinical Orthopedics and Trauma. The SI joint flanks either side of the sacrum, or tailbone, fusing it to the pelvis bone. This rigid joint is supported by strong ligaments that help it fulfill its role in your musculoskeletal system. It carries the weight of your entire torso.
The SI joint supports the weight of the upper body and absorbs the daily impact on your lumbar spine. The impact isn’t from activities like running or jumping, but daily movements like walking or lifting heavy objects.
An indication that you could have SI joint dysfunction is if you feel pain in your back when you stand up. The pain could be in your lower back, buttocks, hips, legs, and even ankles and feet. SI joint problems are difficult to assess. Your doctor will run an extensive series of tests to determine if the pain is associated with your SI joint and to rule out other possible causes.
Common Treatments for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
If you are under the care of the doctor and have been diagnosed with SI joint dysfunction, there are a number of available treatments:
- Exercise: Under the supervision of a physical therapist, small amounts of regular light low-impact exercise, such as low-impact water aerobics, can help stretch and strengthen the lower back muscles and alleviate your pain.
- Diet: Adjusting your diet to exclude inflammatory foods and increase the intake of foods that fight inflammation, will reduce the swelling in your SI joint and provide you with tremendous relief if you’re consistent.
- Cold / Hot Compresses: Cold compresses on the afflicted area will reduce swelling and provide temporary relief. Adding a hot compress afterward will increase circulation in the area, reducing the pain signals that are going to your brain.
- Medication: Depending on your level of discomfort, a doctor might recommend anything from acetaminophen (Tylenol), to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to a number of prescription painkillers.
- Corticosteroids: Medications that can be taken orally or through an injection directly into the SI joint. These are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that can provide months of relief for some people, but come with intense side effects such as weight gain and osteoporosis.
- Surgery: Typically a last resort, open spine surgery is an option for those suffering from severe instances of SI joint dysfunction. SI joint fusion surgery involves “fusing” the bone ends so that the two bones effectively become one solid bone and terminates all motion of the joint, eliminating the pain. These surgeries come with a series of risks.
How Can Massage Therapy Treat SI Joint Dysfunction?
The primary focus for each treatment is pain management. Massage therapy can provide significant improvement for pain and works best as part of an integrated approach with your doctor and physical therapist.
Physical therapy will alleviate pain through guided and supervised stretching and exercises that increase the stability of the joint. Massage therapy can also help reduce the pain associated with SI joint dysfunction by addressing the muscles and ligaments that support it.
For example, cranial-sacral therapy (balancing the rhythm of the cerebral-spinal pulse) will realign the body and reduce the stress on the SI joint. Using Swedish massage techniques, your massage therapist can relax the muscles and improve circulation in the area.
Massage can relieve the pain and discomfort of SIJ dysfunction by correcting imbalances of the musculoskeletal system. This is the connection between your muscles and your joints and bones. Some practitioners use a therapeutic strategy involving piriformis techniques that address the stability of the pelvis in order to alleviate the SI joint pain.
Try the least invasive routes before leaping to potentially addictive prescription painkillers and costly surgeries with lengthy recovery times. In addition to your doctor, seek advice from massage therapists, physical therapists, and holistic health practitioners who can offer alternative approaches to your sacroiliac joint pain management.