Lower back pain. Glute pain. Tingling. Numbness. Shooting pain.
These symptoms all sound like sciatica. And, with almost 40% of the entire population experiencing sciatica, it’s become a fairly common diagnosis.
However, as it turns out, there’s another diagnosis out there sometimes masquerading with almost identical symptoms: SI joint pain and dysfunction. If you’ve been managing what you thought were sciatic symptoms with no real relief, it may be time to take a hard look at your diagnosis.
Today, I’ll teach you how to spot SI joint pain and dysfunction, and what you can do about it. Don’t worry: I have hopeful news!
The Difference Between Sciatica And SI Joint Dysfunction
One of the most important parts of overcoming an injury is understanding what is actually going on with your body. That’s why one of the biggest obstacles in overcoming SI joint dysfunction is simply in obtaining the correct diagnosis, as its symptoms can seem to mock several other diagnoses. While the pain and discomfort from sciatica mimics SI joint dysfunction pain fairly closely, there are some ways to detect the difference. For starters, sciatic pain generally shoots from the lower back and glutes, all the way down to the foot. This is because of the route and length of the sciatic nerve. However, in the case of SI joint dysfunction, that same hot, tingling sensation rarely dips below the knee, and instead usually stays closer to the glute and lower back areas.
In short, SI joint dysfunction – also known as sacroiliitis – is inflammation of the sacroiliac joints. If you’re not familiar with this joint, it is located in your pelvis and links your iliac bone (pelvis) to your sacrum (the lowest part of your spine just above your tailbone.) The sacroiliac joint transfers weight between your upper body and legs, so when it’s inflamed, it causes great pain.
You can experience pain on both your right and left sides, but this condition usually chooses one particular side. And when it does, it causes pain in the glute and lower back while extending partially down the leg. The pain can feel hot, stabbing, and tingling and is generally aggravated by long periods of standing or sitting, running, and stair climbing.
What Causes SI Joint Dysfunction
SI joint dysfunction can have a myriad of causes, but it’s important to keep in mind the inflammatory nature of the diagnosis. Though a traumatic injury, like a fall, can cause this, simple overuse can also be a culprit. Other common causes include those who are living with arthritis or women who are pregnant and managing the added weight and altered gait pattern as their center of gravity shifts.
At-Home Care For SI Joint Dysfunction
If you think that you’re experiencing SI joint dysfunction, we have good news. Most cases are completely treatable with conservative care and appropriate rest. Of course, it is always best to work with a medical professional before implementing even seemingly minor at-home exercises. This helps to not only ensure that you’re on a proper path for healing, but also that you’re not missing anything bigger.
Rest, Ice, Heat
Rest, ice heat…we’ve heard this combo before— the tried-and-true basics of injury treatment, and for good reason! Treating SI joint dysfunction is about calming down inflammation to allow the body to actually let proper healing take place. Try alternating ice and heat applied to the area for pain relief and inflammation control.
Temporarily restricting heavy movement can make a tremendous impact on your recovery, but be careful not to lay low for too long. Too much immobility can actually increase stiffness and delay the full-body mobility you’re seeking. Here again, it’s best to work with a medical professional to advise on the optimal duration.
Light Hamstring Stretch
Some light stretching of the hamstring can help relieve some of the tightness that contributes to pain around your SI joint. A great way to ease into this stretch is by starting in a sitting position in a chair. Extend the leg of your affected side straight out, resting your heel on the floor and keeping your toes pointed to the ceiling. Then, with an engaged core and straight lower back, slowly bend forward until you feel a slight stretch on your hamstring. Hold for 10-20 seconds, straighten up, and repeat 5-10 times.
Begin this exercise by laying on the ground, with your back flattened to the floor and your core engaged. Bring your knee up toward your chest, using your hands to guide your knee closer to your body for a deeper stretch. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release. You can repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
If you have trouble reaching your knee while lying on your back, try placing a rolled towel around your knee, and using the ends of the towel to gently pull your knee toward you.
How Chiropractic Can Help With SI Joint Dysfunction
Chiropractic care is an excellent option for treating SI joint dysfunction and here’s why: chiropractors are experts in understanding how the spine, vertebrae, and surrounding muscles and tissues interact. Though the pain and discomfort that SI joint dysfunction causes point to symptoms that surround the affected area, your practitioner will be able to understand the root of your individual symptoms and treat the actual cause – not just help manage your pain.
Chiropractic adjustments of the SI area can prove to be extremely beneficial in treating SI joint pain. These manual manipulations help to realign your body, decrease inflammation, restore mobility, and relieve pressure – all imperative pieces to allow real healing to take place. Additional adjustments of the spine and extremities can also help your entire body be more receptive to the natural healing process.
By working consistent chiropractic care into your routine, you help prime your body for healing and can treat your SI joint dysfunction directly. Plus, this kind of treatment also pays dividends for your overall health, both proactively, during, and after care.