What is sacroiliitis?

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction, also known as sacroiliitis, is a painful lower spine condition. It’s a common cause of lower back pain. Inflammation of a sacroiliac joint causes the condition.

There are two sacroiliac joints — one on each side of the spine. The joints connect the bone at the bottom of your vertebrae with the top part of the pelvis. Sacroiliitis can affect one or both joints.

Pain from the condition can occur in the lower back and the buttocks. Sometimes sacroiliitis can send pain down one or both legs.

Several therapy options are available to treat this condition and ease this pain.

Treating sacroiliitis with medications can help relieve symptoms. Treatment can also improve your quality of life. The right medication therapy will depend on the cause and severity of your condition.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), may help relieve pain. But sometimes over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers aren’t effective. If OTC medications don’t work for you, ask your doctor about higher dose prescription drugs. Muscle relaxants can treat muscle spasms caused by sacroiliitis.

One type of sacroiliitis is associated with a type of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Part of AS treatment often includes TNF inhibitors. These are medications that can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. Examples of TNF inhibitors include:

Physical therapy (PT) can help maintain flexibility and strength in the sacroiliac joint. PT is often used along with medications. PT exercises help improve range of motion and build stability. Proper stretching is also a key part of PT to treat sacroiliitis.

Your PT routine may include stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles in your lower back. These exercises can also help muscles that support your hips and pelvis. Other exercises may help improve the motion of the joint. Ice and heat treatments are also part of PT.

Another important part of PT is learning proper posture. Good posture may relieve unnecessary strain on your sacroiliac joint. You’ll also learn the right ways to bend, lift, and do other actions.

If sacroiliitis is compromising your ability to walk, physical therapists can provide gait training or help you learn to use walkers or other assistive devices.

In addition to strengthening and range-of-motion exercises, treatment for sacroiliac joint dysfunction may include manual therapy. Manual therapy targets specific area with hands-on techniques to ease symptoms and improve mobility. Manual therapy can include a variety of treatments, such as massage therapy and joint mobilization.

Another example of manual therapy is electrotherapy. Electrical energy stimulates soft tissue in joints affected by limited mobility.

Before you can start therapy, your doctor must diagnose your back pain. Symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction can be like those associated with a herniated disk or sciatica, a nerve problem affecting the lower back. So getting a diagnosis of sacroiliitis may be difficult.

An X-ray or MRI scan of the affected joint can help your doctor diagnose your condition. Another way to diagnose sacroiliac joint dysfunction is to inject a numbing medication into the joints to see if it helps relieve discomfort. If the injections are effective, then it’s likely that sacroiliac joint dysfunction is the problem.

Once you have a definitive diagnosis, you can start to explore your treatment options.