Sacroiliac Pain vs.Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Atlantic Spine Center

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Spinal ConditionsBack Pain

What is sacroiliac pain?

Sacroiliac pain (aka sacroiliac joint pain) refers to the pain originating in the sacroiliac joints, which connect the sacrum (the lower part of the spine) to the pelvis. Sacroiliac pain can be felt in the lower back, buttocks, groin, legs, lower extremities, as well as the abdomenal region.

Do sacroiliac pain and sacroiliac joint dysfunction mean the same thing?

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction and sacroiliac pain are often used interchangeably, but they actually do not mean the same thing. As stated earlier, sacroiliac pain refers to the pain that starts from the sacroiliac joints, whereas sacroiliac joint dysfunction refers to abnormal motion of the sacroiliac joints. Although sacroiliac pain can be a main symptom of sacroiliac joint dysfunction, sacroiliac joint dysfunction does not always result in sacroiliac pain, and not all sacroiliac pain is caused by sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

What causes sacroiliac pain?

Surrounded by strong ligaments, sacroiliac joints provide stability to the pelvis, and act as shock absorbers to the spine. The joints have only limited mobility. Too much movement (hypermobility) or too little movement (hypomobility) of the sacroiliac joints can cause sacroiliac pain.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is a major risk factor for sacroiliac pain. Other risk factors for sacroiliac pain include traumatic injury, pregnancy, spinal fusion, hip arthritis, and scoliosis.

What are some non-surgical treatments for sacroiliac pain?

Treatments might include:

  • Cold, heat and rest: Ice or cold packs can be used to reduce inflammation, while rest reduces irritation. When inflammation and acute pain have subsided, a return to normal activities may be possible and a heat wrap or hot bath may further help the healing process.
  • Physical therapy and exercise: Physical therapy can strengthen the muscles around the sacroiliac joint, which increases the range of motion, and low-impact aerobic exercise can help increase the flow of blood to the area, which stimulates healing.
  • Pain medications: Acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) can reduce the swelling that contributes to pain.
  • Support or brace: A pelvic belt can be used to stabilize a joint that is too loose until the inflammation and pain subside.
  • Joint injections: Numbing injections into the sacroiliac joint are used diagnostically to help identify the cause of the pain but are also useful in providing immediate pain relief. Typically, an anesthetic is injected along with an anti-inflammatory medication.

Do spinal fusion and sacroiliac pain go hand in hand?

Spinal fusion such as lumbosacral fusion, a surgical procedure that fuses the lower part of the lumbar spine and the sacrum together, can lead to sacroiliac joint dysfunction and result in sacroiliac pain. However, spinal fusion and sacroiliac pain do not go hand in hand. Although sacroiliac joints can be a potential source of lower back pain after lumbar or lumbosacral fusion, studies have shown that not all patients suffer from sacroiliac pain after spinal fusion procedures.