SI joint pain is a commonly misdiagnosed low back injury

Sakkas Cahn & Weiss

How long has your lower back pain bothered you? Your doctor may have told you that you have a degenerative disc that’s causing a problem. Doctors often diagnose the cause of lower back pain as a problem with a disc in your lower back and while painkillers temporarily ease the discomfort, they just conceal the problem. This misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary surgical procedures, like a lumbar fusion, to treat the problem.

However, there is often another problem. Your sacroiliac joint, or SI joint, connects your spine to your hips and is often the cause of lower back pain. SI joint pain is the cause of low-back pain in 14 to 22 percent of patients with back pain and in up to 40 percent of patients who have had a lumbar fusion procedure. The confusion is likely due to your SI join is where your spine inserts into your hips.

How SI joint injuries happen

There are many causes for SI joint problems. SI joint pain typically occurs when the ligaments in your middle and lower body become too tight or too loose. These ligaments’ elasticity changes for several reasons. Some of these reasons include:

  • Anatomical: Sometimes, you cannot control the cause of your SI joint pain. For instance, having one leg longer than the other or having to wear a walking boot following a foot injury can lead to pain in your SI joint.
  • Unintentional: Other times, outside factors can affect your SI joint. An accident at work or in your vehicle or childbirth and pregnancy can trigger SI joint injuries.

Treatment is often more complex than taking pain pills. Physical therapy, such as strengthening and stretching exercises or regular visits to the chiropractor are common non-surgical treatments. Doctors will sometimes use these methods with steroidal or anti-inflammatory treatments.

How to prevent a misdiagnosis

You can increase your chances for a correct diagnosis with a little communication. Before you visit your doctor, record the date, time, and location of the pain on your body. Be sure to also note a possible injury to your lower back area which may provide your physician with a logical starting place in your diagnosis. You may need to see a back specialist who is well-educated in SI joint problems. It’s important to minimize the risk of a misdiagnosis that can lead to unnecessary surgeries and prescriptions.

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