Posterior lumbar and pelvic skeletal and surface muscle anatomy with SI joint pain

SI Joint Pain – Help at Home

Do you have one small, painful spot on your back? Right where the blue arrow is pointing?

ICK.

Pain in this area is one of the main indicators of sacroiliac joint (SI joint, or SIJ) pain. This pain can occur when the joint between your sacrum (your tailbone) and your ilium (the big curved bone of your pelvis) gets pulled out of alignment, usually because of tight muscles around the hip.

Wait, I have a joint there?

You do! The pelvis isn’t one solid block of bone. It’s actually made up of five bones that fit together like puzzle pieces to form a more-or-less solid girdle. I say more or less because there can be some slight give in the joints between the bones. The three bones of the hip (the ilium, the ischium, and the pubis) are fused, and your SI joint is the connection between your sacrum and your ilium.

This joint functions a little like a zipper, with strong layers of ligaments holding the two pieces together while still allowing some small amount of movement. But it’s built for stability, and too much movement or pull in any one direction and you’ll know about it, often with a pain at the back of the hip, towards the top of the SI joint.

Posterior pelvis skeletal anatomy with SI joint pain

The Snowball Effect: The SIJ version

When we have pain or trauma (like slipping and falling, or jarring a joint) to joints, muscles, or other tissues, the body quickly tightens muscles around the area to help protect it from further damage or irritation. Great! Except that the protective tension can also lead to additional irritation via the misalignment discussed above.. And the ball rolls on until you put a stop to it.

Ok, so what should I do if my SI joint hurts?

Joint misalignment is often due to tight muscles, fascia, and other soft tissues; Your SI joint has a lot of muscles and fascia surrounding it. (If you want to dive deep into the muscles, ligaments, and bone related to the SIJ, go here. So loosen them up!

Trigger point self-therapy in the glute region, the adductor region (inner thigh), the outside of the hip, and even through the lower back can provide relief from SIJ pain. All you need is a tennis ball! Here’s how: sit or lay on the tennis ball, or lean into it by pinning it against a wall in the areas shown below.

 

Trigger Point for Glute (Bum) Muscles

SIJ Line Glute Trigger Point for SI joint pain

Sit with the tennis ball pressing into the soft tissue to the side of the sacrum (tailbone). Roll it or move it up and down to find tight spots and hold it until the tension or soreness disappears. Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

 

Trigger Point for Adductor (Inner Thigh) Muscles

Foam roller adductor trigger point for SI joint pain

Lay face down with one knee out to the side, hooked over the roller so the roller is pressing on the inner thigh, foot to the outside of the roller. Roll it or move it up and down to find tight spots and hold it until the tension or soreness disappears (it’s safe to apply pressure this way anywhere between just above the knee and the crease of the hip). Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

 

Trigger Point for TFL and Glute Min (Outside Of Hip) Muscles

TFL and Glute min Trigger Point for SI joint pain

Lay on your side with a tennis ball in the fleshy part of the outside of your hip, or pin the ball against the wall in the same area. Hold pressure until the tension or soreness disappears, then move to find a new spot (move towards the front or back of the hip). Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

Secondary causes can be tight muscles farther from the joint. Give them a stretch with one of the following stretches:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on one knee and take a BIG step forward with the other side. Squeeze the glute on the back leg, and drop the hips forward to stretch the front of the hip on the back leg. Not feeling the kneeling? Here are other ways to stretch your hip flexors.

 

Pretzel Glute Stretch

Pretzel Glute Stretch for SI joint pain

Lay on your back and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Draw the knee back towards your chest, bringing the ankle with it, and hold in place by wrapping your hands around your shin or the back of your thigh (between your thigh and calf).

 

Knee Hook Stretch for TFL and Glute Min

Knee Hook TFL and Glute stretch for SIJ pain

Lay on your back with both knees bent, then drop both knees to one side. Hook the ankle of the bottom leg over the knee of the top leg to pull the knee slightly towards the floor.

Important Safety Reminder!

The trigger points and stretches above are great for SI joint pain, but that doesn’t mean they are right for every single person. If you feel pain with any of these, please stop immediately and seek treatment with a remedial massage therapist, an osteopath, or a physiotherapist (or physical therapist). They’ll be able to give you a better idea of what’s going on, and to treat you appropriately.

 


Three Top Tips for Injury Prevention

So you want to prevent injuries? If you’re in one of the three following groups, injury prevention should be on your mind, because you’re at higher risk of muscle strains, joint sprains, and overuse or repetitive stress injuries. High(er) risk groups include:

  • Aging bodies (disappointingly, physically this means over the age of 35-ish)
  • People who train hard, often, or both, especially without appropriate physical recovery
  • Weekend warriors, or those who go longer periods of time between workouts or physical activity

Kickstart Things With Hands-On Massage Therapy

Daily life is hard on your body. The normal activities of daily life frequently create tension in muscles and connective tissues, either shortening them or overstretching them. Changed tension and length can create joint stress through misalignment and instability. In turn, this can increase injury risk for both joints and muscles.

What to do? Get some help! Remedial massage therapy, also called deep tissue massage or manual therapy, is the best way to kickstart your injury prevention efforts. While there are many things that you can do at home to mimic hands-on treatment, the fact is that you probably won’t make the at-home effort for the same length of time as a standard remedial treatment. Even if you do, you probably won’t be able to target the soft tissues (muscles and connective tissues) in the same way. You just won’t get the right angle on it!

A good remedial therapist will be able to target the muscles and connective tissues putting you at highest injury risk. They do this by asking you about your injury and exercise history, and by finding out what you would like to be able to do moving forward, whether that’s simply staying pain free or being able to keep up with the kids on the mountain bike. The long term goal for any hands-on therapy should be to get you feeling good so that you can maintain it with just a tune-up every now and then.

For Brisbane’s best remedial massage, check out Just Knead It or No More Knots.

Keep Things Moving Well – At Home

There are many, many different approaches to home-based injury prevention programs. The hallmarks of any good program: Exercises to maintain good muscle and connective tissue tension, and exercises to build and maintain joint mobility. (Joint mobility is the ability to actively move a joint through its full range of motion – similar to flexibility, but with additional contributing physical factors.)

Foam rolling and trigger pointing are two of the most common “exercises” to help maintain good soft tissue tension. They aren’t exercise in the traditional sense, though they can take some work! Instead, they are essentially a DIY remedial massage. These are usually completed by sitting, laying, or leaning on a foam roller or a spikey trigger point ball (or a tennis ball, which works just as well). Holding the pressure on a muscle-y area will trigger a nervous system response that causes the muscle to relax. How long to hold? There’s no single answer to this. It depends on a number of factors including positioning and how long the tissue has been building tension, but I always ask my clients to aim for a minimum of 30 seconds per spot. The wonderful thing about your body is that no matter how tight you might feel, if you do this consistently, you’ll be much looser, very quickly – especially if you’re starting this process after having remedial massage treatment. Once you’re feeling good, aim to maintain this by checking in with your body once or twice a week.

Joint mobility exercises are similar to flexibility exercises, in that they’ll challenge your body to move beyond its normal muscle lengths. As with static stretching, you’ll feel… stretching. The big difference is that with most joint mobility exercises, there’s a movement element as well as the stretch. Paying attention to your body alignment, you’ll move into a stretch in a controlled manner then move back out of it. This lengthens short muscles and connective tissues, provides some slack to overstretched areas, and teaches your brain to control movement through the entire range of motion available the joint(s) you’re working on.

Pro tip: Always do your soft tissue work before doing your joint mobility work. The decreased tension from the foam rolling or trigger pointing will give you more range of motion.

Get Strong

Being able to move your muscles and joints easily is vital to staying injury and pain-free – but only if you’re strong enough to control them! This doesn’t mean that you need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights every day. Rather, it means sticking with a plan for gradually challenging your muscles to get stronger, which can happen at a gym, at home, at the park, or in a group fitness class. A strength training program for injury prevention should, generally speaking, provide the following:

  • Exercises for all major muscle groups of the body
  • More “pulling” exercises than pushing (think moving a weight or resistance toward your centre of gravity rather than pushing it away)
  • Exercises that require large joint movement, preferably through multiple joints

Individualised injury prevention programs will take into account what movements and postures are most common for you on a day to day basis, any injury or exercise history you have, any current injuries or niggles you’re dealing with, and most importantly, what being injury-free (and worry-free) will let you do with your life! For most people without major sporting goals, an injury prevention program can be done in 20-30 minutes a few times per week. A small investment for lifelong peace of mind!

 

Have questions about exercise physiology? Interested in signing up for in-home sessions? Get in touch! 

HealthFit Coaching looks after inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer.