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Understanding SI joint pain through the help of the surgeons at Laser Spine Institute St. Louis

SI joint pain can be characterized as a chronic pain and stiffness in your lower back. Sometimes confused with sciatica, this condition affects the one of the two (or both) joints in the lowest region of your spine. These are called the sacroiliac joints, and they are responsible for transferring weight and movement from your upper body to your legs. For this reason, people with this condition often experience pain and stiffness when standing up from a seated position or walking.

If you’ve noticed these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine if you have SI joint deterioration. There are many treatment options available to relieve SI joint pain, but the first step you must take is to determine what has caused your condition.

What causes SI joint pain?

SI joint pain is often caused in the same manner as any other type of joint pain in your body — inflammation in the joints from chronic wear and tear. The SI joints are protected by a thick cover of cartilage. As this cartilage wears down, the joints can begin to grind against bone, which can lead to inflammation and sometimes even the development of bone spurs.

For many people, the underlying cause of inflammation in the joints is the natural deterioration of the spine. As the spine endures years of repetitive motion, the protective layer of cartilage on the joints can wear down. Factors like obesity and participation in high-impact sports can increase the deterioration of the spine.

Once the SI joints become inflamed, there is an increased risk of a nearby nerve root being compressed. When this happens, painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms can occur.

Symptoms of SI joint pain

SI joint pain can be felt in your lower back, but it can also travel to your hip, groin, buttock, leg and foot if the nerve compression is severe. The common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Difficulty standing after sitting for a long period of time
  • Chronic pain in the lower back
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
  • Stiffness in the lower back and hips

If you notice these symptoms developing, and at-home treatments are not helping to relieve your pain, you should contact your doctor to schedule an appointment. Your doctor can determine the cause of your pain and recommend the best treatment options for your specific condition and medical history.

Diagnosing SI joint pain

Your doctor will begin the diagnosis process by asking you about your symptoms and reviewing your medical history. He or she will also perform a physical exam and likely order an imaging test, such as an MRI or CT scan. This imaging test will allow your doctor to visibly see what is causing the pain in your sacroiliac joints so he or she can make a personalized recommendation for your treatment.

Treatment for SI joint pain

Treatment for SI joint pain often starts with conservative methods, meaning nonsurgical approaches to pain relief. The most forms of nonsurgical treatment for this condition include:

  • Pain medication
  • Weight loss
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretches
  • Lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking
  • Corticosteroid injections

In many cases, patients find relief from one or more of these treatments after several weeks or months. However, if you are still suffering from pain and symptoms after this time, your doctor may recommend spine surgery as your next option.

Surgery for SI joint pain

SI joint surgery can be performed as a traditional open back surgery or as a minimally invasive surgery. At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional open back surgery due to our comparatively lower risk of complications and shorter recovery time.^

To learn more about what causes SI joint pain and the treatment options available, contact Laser Spine Institute in St. Louis and talk to our team of spine care specialists. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.