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Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Sacroiliac joint (SI joint) dysfunction, often associated with Sacroiliitis (pronounced: say-kroe-il-e-I-tis) is a painful condition that affects one or both of the sacroiliitis joints.

The sacroiliitis joint is the point where the lower spine and pelvis meet and, when sacroiliitis joint dysfunction becomes a problem, can result in notable stiffness in the buttocks and lower back area which can be felt down one or both sides of the body.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is a common problem, however, the proximity of these joints and the interaction that they have with other surrounding joints and muscles often means that the problem is not properly diagnosed.

In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment of sacroiliac joint dysfunction, as well as the early signs that can help physiology professionals to correctly diagnose and treat.

Table of contents

  • Symptoms of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

  • Causes of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

  • Treatment for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

  • The Challenge of Correct Diagnosis for Si Joint Dysfunction

Symptoms of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Symptoms of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

The most common symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction include:

Lower back pain ranging from a full aching sensation through to more severe pain that becomes a notable issue felt when sitting or standing. Those who report lower back pain or pain at the base of the spine as a symptom of sacroiliac joint dysfunction typically report it being felt on one side of the body, however, in some cases, it may also be felt on both sides.

Hip and groin pain associated with dysfunction of the SI joint is one of the most commonly reported symptoms.

General stiffness that reduces the range of motion in the lower back and pelvis region which can also spread to the groin area. General stiffness associated with sacroiliac joint dysfunction may also impair the ability to go about normal daily tasks such as lifting objects, climbing stairs, and simply moving through the day.

Sciatic-like pain is one of the most commonly reported issues associated with sacroiliac joint dysfunction which can make it incredibly difficult to pinpoint the root of the pain and correctly diagnose. Given how common sciatic nerve pain is in individuals (especially as we age) it can be difficult to separate the two feelings and correctly diagnose.

Causes of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

SI joint dysfunction can be caused by a range of different factors, including:

Movement and gait issues mean that individuals can place uneven and undue stresses on one side of the body which can cause the pelvis and lower back to carry an uneven load.

Overload through too much physical activity or overuse through activities such as long-distance running can be linked to SI joint dysfunction and cause the aforementioned symptoms to become more prominent and noticeable during training.

Lack of physical activity, on the other end of the spectrum, highlighted by a sedentary lifestyle or extended periods of sitting can also exacerbate SI joint dysfunction issues.

Underlying conditions affecting the lower back and pelvis region can intensify and present as SI joint dysfunction.

Treatment for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Treatment for sacroiliac joint dysfunction will ultimately come down to the causes listed above, as well as the circumstances of the individual. Some of the most common treatment methods include:

Rest from activity – particularly when the issue has been exacerbated by intense physical activity or overuse of the sacroiliac joint/s.

Ice or heat – depending on the nature of the Sacroiliac joint dysfunction injury, heat or ice treatment may be prescribed to treat and reduce painful symptoms.

Medication such as acetaminophen, as well as prescription or over-the-counter (depending on the severity) anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed.

Manual treatment which includes manipulating the painful area through massage or hands-on treatment from an experienced physical therapist may be advised to treat the issue.

Reintroduction and gradual overload of physical activity are recommended to ensure that the underlying issue is not aggravated when it comes time to return to training or to commence training if the issue is associated with inactivity.

Treatment for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

The Challenge of Correct Diagnosis for SI Joint Dysfunction

As we touched on earlier, correct diagnosis of SI joint dysfunction can be a challenge due to a range of different factors, including:

Non-specific symptoms that are often incorrectly diagnosed as more common problems associated with the specific symptom or feeling. Common problems such as herniated discs, hip arthritis, or sciatica are often misdiagnosed.

Lack of standardised testing protocols for SI joint dysfunction means that professionals that do not have experience with the condition or understand the specific nature of linked symptoms can often misdiagnose.

Subjective testing means that SIJ dysfunction often overlaps a number of other, more common, musculoskeletal conditions, such as spondylosis, joint pain, and sacroiliac arthritis which can make it extremely difficult to diagnose.

Lack of visible signs in the patient such as swelling, redness, or other tell-tale signs of other common muscular conditions means that correct diagnosis can be a challenge.

Final Thoughts

Sacroiliac joint (SI joint) dysfunction is amongst the most frustrating and difficult-to-diagnose issues affecting the pelvis and lower back region. If you’ve been struggling with pain in this area and the above symptoms ring true, it may be a good idea to seek treatment from an experienced physiotherapist with experience in diagnosing and treating SI joint dysfunction. At Infinite Health, we have physiotherapists and chiropractors in North Sydney, Chatswood, Sydney CBD, and Mosman.


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