Sacroiliac strain is a painful tightening of the ligaments that support the sacroiliac joints (SI joints), the two joints on either side of the pelvis. It usually is first noticed as a pain in the lower back, or on one hip or buttock. The pain can extend down the leg or all the way around to the groin, and to the testicles in men. Sometimes the referred leg or back pain is mistaken for sciatica.
The sacroiliac joints connect the sacrum, a series of five vertebrae in the lower back, and the hip bones, or ilia. These joints are connected by a strong set of ligaments that protect the joints, and also limit their motion somewhat. When the ligaments are injured or become inflamed, joint pain and sacroiliac joint dysfunction may result.
The SI joint is particularly vulnerable in women during pregnancy, when the ligaments loosen in preparation for birth. The sacroiliac joints hold up the weight of the entire upper body, so the extra weight of pregnancy can make sacroiliac pain worse. Other things that can cause sacroiliac strain are prolonged periods of lifting, long-distance driving, traumatic injury to the area, and inflammatory diseases such as spinal arthritis.
Sacroiliac strain can be diagnosed by a doctor, and may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, heat therapy, and rest. Physical therapy or chiropractic care might be helpful as well. Most people who suffer a strain can return to normal activities after about a week of treatment, although ongoing treatment may be necessary.
Sometimes it's impossible to prevent sacroiliac strain, but being mindful during activities such as heavy lifting can help. In the early stages of SI joint pain, it might be useful for sufferers to take a rest from activities that tend to make the pain worse. Some people find that taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can head off an episode of acute pain if taken at the first signs of strain. Stretching and strengthening exercises can also be effective in preventing recurring episodes.
A sacroiliac joint belt might also help alleviate sacroiliac joint pain and prevent it from flaring up. This device is worn around the hips and supports the entire sacroiliac region. For pregnant women, a special maternity belt can relieve extra pressure on the SI joints, even in women who were not prone to sacroiliac strain before pregnancy. There are many different types and brands of belts and other devices for sacroiliac problems; a health care practitioner can guide patients in choosing the right one.