How Physical Therapy Effectively Treats Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Do you experience pain in the lower back or leg when you stand up from the chair? It could be due to the condition called sacroiliac joint dysfunction. The condition is the result of the inflammation of the sacroiliac joint and can develop at any age. 

Patients struggling with this condition need to be treated with the proper treatment at the right time to reduce the symptoms and alleviate pain. Physical therapy, a non-invasive treatment, effectively treats sacroiliac joint dysfunction through physical activities and various modalities.

What is Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, a painful condition, is caused due to the inflammation of one or both of the sacroiliac joints. The condition is also referred to as sacroiliitis. The sacroiliac joints are located on each side of the spine and connect the bone at the bottom of the vertebrae with the top part of the pelvis.

These joints are responsible for supporting the upper body’s weight when we stand or walk, thus placing a large amount of pressure across them. This is one of the primary causes of sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. It may lead to degeneration of the cartilage of the sacroiliac joints and result in inflammation.

Another common cause of this condition is pregnancy. The sacroiliac joints undergo several changes that prepare the body for childbirth. The extra weight and walking pattern during pregnancy can also place additional strain on these joints. These factors lead to abnormal wear resulting in sacroiliac joint pain.

Other causes that lead to damage of the sacroiliac joints include traumatic injury or infection in the joints. Other disorders that cause inflammation in the sacroiliac joints include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis. 

The condition leads to pain in the lower back or back of the hip, joint swelling, redness, stiffness, weakness, and reduced range of motion. The pain associated with this condition may worsen by running, stair climbing, or standing and sitting for long hours.

Physical Therapy for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Physical therapists ask the patient about their injury(if any), symptoms, location of pain, and its intensity. They also conduct a physical examination by asking their patients to walk or balance on one leg. Then they will analyze the strength and mobility of the hip, pelvic area, and spine. They also gently touch these areas to determine where symptoms are present.

  1. Exercises

    Physical therapists recommend therapeutic exercises that help in improving strength and flexibility in the sacroiliac joint. Exercises provide the patients with an improved range of motion and soothe muscles that support their hips and pelvis.

    Some stretching exercises that can reduce sacroiliac joint pain include

    • Piriformis stretch – As the piriformis muscle extends over the hip, it can cause irritation in the sacroiliac joint when it is tight. Stretching this muscle helps to relieve stiffness and reduce pain.
    • Lower Trunk Rotation – This stretch promotes flexibility in the hip and the lower back, thus relieving stress on the sacroiliac joints.
    • Bridge stretch – This stretch helps strengthen the muscles in the lower back, buttocks, and hip.

    Strengthening exercises helps to improve the stability of the sacroiliac and spinal joints and are effective in reducing pain. There are some other exercises that help promote sacroiliac joint pain relief. They include aquatic therapy and yoga, which are not only safe but also effective. While performing aquatic therapy, water’s resistance helps in improving strength and flexibility. Yoga poses like child’s pose and triangle pose are also beneficial for the sacroiliac joints.

  2. Heat/Cold Therapy

    Heat or cold therapy is used to loosen up tight muscles before proceeding to the treatments or reduce pain following an exercise program. Heat increases blood flow and brings more oxygen and nutrients to the affected area. Cold therapy decreases circulation and reduces inflammation and pain. Heated pads or ice cubes wrapped in a towel are used for these treatments.

  3. Manual Therapy

    Manual therapy is a specific hands-on technique used to treat pain associated with sacroiliac joint dysfunction. It helps to ease symptoms, improve mobility and relaxation in patients. This therapy includes joint mobilization and massage therapy. 

    In joint mobilization, the physical therapists use gentle movements to stretch and strengthen the tissue surrounding the bone, thus reducing pain and increasing the range of motion. It helps release tension and improves mobility in the hip, lower back, and sacroiliac joints.

    In massage therapy, physical therapists use their hands and fingers to apply varying pressures over the affected area according to the intensity of the pain. They perform this therapy to address the body’s soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Massage therapy relaxes the muscles and improves circulation to the area, thus reducing pain.

  4. Bracing

    Bracing provides support to the sacroiliac joints and maintains stability while performing everyday activities. It is mainly beneficial for pregnant women. Hence physical therapists suggest their patients wear a sacroiliac belt.

  5. Electrical Stimulation

    Electrical stimulation, also known as electrotherapy, uses electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves to block pain signals to the brain. This reduces pain and increases the number of endorphins which are the natural painkillers of the human body.

Final Thoughts

The intensity of pain associated with the sacroiliac joint dysfunction can limit one’s ability to lead a good quality of life. But physical activities are the key to reduce pain and improve joint flexibility. Always consult your physical therapist before starting an exercise program that can condition your muscles and reduce the recurrence of pain.

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