Sacroiliac joint syndrome, sometimes called sacroiliac joint dysfunction, can cause pain in the lower back or legs. The sacroiliac joint is located at the base of the spinal column at the point where the spine connects to the pelvis.

The pelvis is characterized by two bones that look like butterfly wings. These “hip bones” on the right and left are the ilia (singular: ilium). Between the ilia is a roughly triangular-shaped bone that supports the spinal column. This triangular bone is called the sacrum. The sacrum forms a joint on both right and left sides with the ilia at a point doctors call the “iliac crest.”

The sacrum supports the spinal column and the ilia support the sacrum.

What makes the sacroiliac joint unique

  • The sacroiliac joint does have a very limited range of motion, but it is not as vast as other joints like the knee or elbow. While its exact range of motion is not exactly known, it is less than 20 degrees.
  • The sacroiliac joint is bicondylar, that is, it has two joint surfaces that move together as one unit.
  • A baby’s sacroiliac joint changes in shape as he or she learns to walk.
  • The sacroiliac is a very rugged joint and rarely gets dislocated.

Understanding sacroiliac joint syndrome

Sacroiliac joint syndrome is characterized by pain in the lower back, groin, legs or any combination of these areas. It occurs when the normal patterns of movement between the right and left sides of the joint become disrupted. In a healthy individual, the right and left sides of the sacroiliac joint function together, as one unit. If one side starts to work against the other or gets out of sync, sacroiliac joint syndrome results.

The most common symptom of sacroiliac joint syndrome is a dull pain in the lower back, which is usually mild to moderate. This pain may be worse or get sharp when a person stands from a sitting position or lifts a knee to the chest when going up stairs.

Causes of sacroiliac joint syndrome

It is not always clear what causes sacroiliac pain, but such conditions might include:

  • Too much movement causing instability of the joint (this often causes pain in the lower back, hip or groin).
  • Too little movement so that the joint works against itself (this often causes pain in the lower back, buttocks or leg).

Diagnosing sacroiliac joint syndrome

Since there is no definitive test for sacroiliac joint syndrome, diagnosis can be challenging. University Spine Center has expertise in sacroiliac joint syndrome diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of a physical examination, which may include some physical tests, medical history and sometimes imaging.

Treating sacroiliac joint syndrome

There are a variety of treatment options for sacroiliac joint syndrome and University Spine Center offers the latest in state-of-the-art interventions and medications. In some mild cases, lifestyle modifications and pain management may be all that is required. Special treatments including injections and surgical interventions may be recommended in certain cases.