With its location at the bottom of the spine, the sacroiliac joint is under a great deal of pressure. This joint, which helps to connect the spine to the pelvis, is located just beneath the lumbar spine and above the coccyx, and it’s responsible for transferring energy and acting as a buffer between the upper body, legs and hips.
Despite having a limited range of motion that becomes even more limited as the joint fuses with age, the sacroiliac joint is sometimes the source of moderate to severe chronic pain. The pain is most commonly felt in the hips, buttocks, lower back and groin, but it may radiate down the sides of the legs.
By far, the most common cause of sacroiliac joint pain is degenerative arthritis. Like degenerative arthritis elsewhere in the body, this condition occurs when the cartilage that covers the bones of the sacroiliac joint begins to deteriorate. Without strong, healthy cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber, the bones start rubbing together, and degenerative arthritis occurs.
Other causes of sacroiliac joint pain include:
Joint Inflammation – Conditions like gout, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriasis, which cause joint inflammation, are sometimes to blame for sacroiliac joint pain.
Lower Back Pain – In about 13 percent of cases, sacroiliac joint pain is the source of lower back pain, which itself may be caused by a number of conditions.
Pregnancy – The excess weight that is carried by the body during pregnancy can trigger sacroiliac joint pain. Also, hormones that cause the ligaments to relax may increase the joint’s range of motion and make it more susceptible to injury.
Severe Trauma – Severe trauma, which is often caused by car accidents, is often to blame for sacroiliac joint pain.
Changes in Movement and Walking Patterns – Sometimes, a person’s movement and walking patterns change due to injuries and other issues, and these changes can put excess stress on the sacroiliac joint and result in pain.
Sacroiliac joint pain is often confused for other conditions, so diagnosing it properly is often a challenge. Physicians perform physical exams of the spine and pelvis, and imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs and CT scans may be used.
Once sacroiliac joint pain has been diagnosed, an array of treatment options may be used. These include:
Injections – Most commonly, a combination of steroids and anesthetics is injected directly into the sacroiliac joint to provide prompt pain relief. The effects of these injections may last only a day or two, or they can last as long as two or three months.
Medication – Doctors sometimes prescribe medications like NSAIDs, muscle relaxants and steroid medications to treat the symptoms of sacroiliac joint pain.
Interventional Methods – If injections, medication and other methods fail to produce results, interventional methods like spinal cord stimulation, radiofrequency ablation and nerve blocks may be used.
Alternatives – Some patients are able to achieve significant relief from their sacroiliac joint pain through acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic techniques and other alternatives.
Whether it’s caused by degenerative arthritis, severe trauma or another condition, sacroiliac joint pain can severely impact a person’s ability to enjoy life. To treat the condition properly, it must be diagnosed correctly.