What happens when an SI joint gets stuck?

If you have SIJ dysfunction, this is a really important concept for you to understand.

There are different types of issues that can affect the SI joint, but this was the main problem for me, during the entire five years I’ve struggled with this problem.

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The sacroiliac joint is made up by the meeting of the sacrum and the two hip bones, or ilia, on either side.  (I describe the anatomy of the joint in more detail in my section What is the SI Joint?).

250px-sacroiliac_joint-svg

When one of your SI joints get stuck, what happens is that one of your hip bones has rotated backwards and become wedged against the sacrum.  (The scientific way to say is that the ilium has rotated posteriorly).  Basically, it gets stuck in such a way that it can’t get back out on its own (not without some help, anyway).

In the image below, I’m using my model pelvis to show you where the hip bone gets “jammed” against the sacrum.  My pencil is sticking right into the space between the two (this is looking at the pelvis from the back):

IMG_3717 (1).JPG

The reason this problem is so confusing, and under-recognized by medical professionals, is that the hip bone doesn’t actually rotate very far at all.  We are only talking about a couple of millimeters.

If you were to put someone with a “stuck” SI joint in an x-ray or an MRI machine, they wouldn’t look abnormal.  That is why SI joint dysfunction is so hard to diagnose: the joint becomes jammed within what would appear, to most observers, to be its normal range of motion.

But that joint is supposed to be able to move.  And, like anything in the body, when you don’t let something do what it is meant to do, that causes problems.

Having healthy, functional SI joints allows us to:

A) Move our legs through their full range of motion as we walk

B) Absorb some of the force that comes from each leg hitting the ground as we take steps.

Once you deprive the SI joint of its full range of motion, you impede these functions.

Even though the SI joint is not intended to have a lot of motion, those few millimeters of motions serve a lot of important functions in terms of our ability to move overall.

When one of my SI joints would become stuck, I wouldn’t really be able to lift the leg in that side.  It was really an odd, confusing sensation.  I’d have this dull ache in my lower back, and then I’d notice I wouldn’t be able to lift one of my legs.  At first, it didn’t even seem like the two things were even connected.

But again, due to the way our pelvis functions as a whole, you need motion at the SI joint in order to move your leg normally.

So, once one of my SI joints wasn’t moving optimally, it also meant one of my hip bones wasn’t moving the way it was supposed to.  This, in turn, restricted my ability to move the leg on that side.

And once one of my SI joints was stuck, there was nothing I could do on my own, as an untrained person, to fix it.  It was clearly jammed in one position, and all of my attempts to fix it– or even move normally and go about my day– only seemed to make things worse.

Luckily, there are ways to “unstick” a stuck SI joint.

The first way I discovered was through chiropractic adjustments.  In fact, my chiropractor, Dr. K. was the first person to even explain to me what sacroiliac joint dysfunction was.  He was the one who was able to unstick my SI joint when it got stuck.

However, I would later discover that chiropractic adjustments were too rough on my sprained SI joint ligaments.  Even though they were technically putting my joints into place, they were making it harder for my ligaments to heal.

I actually got much better once I started realigning my own joints using the Muscle Energy Technique, which was taught to me by my physical therapist Paula.

It’s possible to get better.

I’m probably going to jinx myself as I write this, but as of right now, it has been eight months since the last time my SI joints rotated out of place and I needed to adjust them.

Because of what I’ve been through, I feel very passionately about educating others with this condition, so they don’t waste years dealing with something that does have answers, like I did.

I’m going to keep writing and creating resources based on my experiences, and I hope you will stay tuned!

Some related posts:

Why do some people’s SI joints get stuck, when others’ don’t?

My Key Points series outlines the different steps of my recovery (of particular relevance to this post is Key Point #6: When someone finally told me only one SI joint could lock up at a time).

And for more anatomy-related posts, be sure to check out my What is the SI Joint? page.

Hope this was helpful!

If you have any questions, you can always leave a comment below or email me at sunlightinwinter12@gmail.com.

 

8 thoughts on “What happens when an SI joint gets stuck?

  1. Mike says:

    Just had this problem. Was causing my lower back muscles to spasm, shifting my whole pelvis out of whack. I was in agony for weeks and couldn’t get a diagnosis. I switched chiropractor s and my new, more experienced chiropractor easily unblocked my sacroiliac joint in one treatment. What a relief! I look forward to strengthing this area.

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  2. Dave says:

    Trying to figure out what’s causing my si to get out. Of whack to begin with. Unilateral exercise like one arm dumbbell press, seems to do it. But so do Hindu squats. I’m at a loss.

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    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Dave– it’s good that you’re able to identify some of the things that make you worse. I’d definitely pay attention to your body and avoid these activities.

      I’m not surprised that unilateral exercises make things worse. One of the functions of the SI joints is to transfer forces from your upper to lower body, and vice versa. Sending force through the joint in an asymmetric manner is likely to cause some rotation throughout your pelvis and stress the SI joints.

      Generally speaking, I’d recommend trying to avoid anything that causes rotation through the pelvis. It’s certainly possible that Hindu squats, or regular squats in general, are going to place more force on your SI joints than your ligaments can handle. I’d found that a lot of exercises to strengthen the glutes (and other muscles) that are technically correct can be too much for the SI joints, if the ligaments there have been sprained. Here’s a few posts you might want to check out, if you haven’t seen them yet:

      Why do perfectly good exercises sometimes make things worse? http://bit.ly/2Bjo4Vu

      A post about how to protect the SI joints while stretching (specifically talks about the hamstrings, but gives some general principles that are good to keep in mind for all stretches/exercises). http://bit.ly/2nFMTJh

      And last, a post about some of the things I’ve found that make my own SI joints worse: http://bit.ly/2AmfYPX

      Hope this helps!

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  3. Laura Tracy says:

    First, wow, thanks for this website!!

    Background: I believe my injury happened from jumping on a rebounder in an uneven fashion :/ a few days later I started to be in pain and it worked it’s way up to about a level 3-4 (out of 10). I went to chiropractor (only) once who said my SI was ‘jammed up’, but didn’t adjust the area in any way, he just loosened the glute, my pain went down in 2 days. I’ve since gone to a message therapist who specializes in balancing hips (in a crazy soft way/loosening surrounding muscles…) and my hips are actually in line and remain in line (not sure my SI joint can be out if hips in line?).

    SOO, I’m trying to understand my problem. I have pain at a level 3 in the area if I walk on the treadmill, for example, after about 30 minutes, then it calms down after 2-3 hours but otherwise I either have no pain (in the mornings and even during morning pilates) or a level one pain (as in I feel something but not pain per se).

    Are the injuries you talk about the same in terms of pain ? Thanks so much!

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    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Laura, so glad my blog is helpful!

      I hope I can answer your question– I’ll definitely try the best I can! As you know from this post and others, I find the most helpful way to describe SI joint dysfunction is to get very specific about how the ilium and sacrum are positioned, in relation to each other. Sometimes chiropractors and PT’s will try to simplify their explanations, because they’re assuming you won’t be interested or they don’t have time to go into detail. Make them! You have a right to know!

      I think it’s possible that sometimes when people say “the hips” they might be talking about the positioning of the pelvis as a whole, in relation to the lumbar spine. For example, there’s a condition called “anterior pelvic tilt” where both sides of the pelvis are tilted too forward, but that’s a symmetrical problem. (When you have SI joint dysfunction, it’s assymetrical– if one hip bone rotates forward, the other one rotates backward). Anterior pelvic tilt can indeed be caused by muscle tightness, and also weakness. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317379.php

      I personally have never heard of anyone being able to release the kind of “stuck” SI joint I’m talking about (when the ilium is jammed backwards against the sacrum) by working on the muscles. However, it’s also possible that when they say your SI joint isn’t moving properly, they mean the muscles around it are in spasm and restricting its motion. If this is the cause, then it makes sense that getting the muscles to relax would help. So if you’re able to get relief this way, that’s great! But I don’t think your joint is getting “locked” in the sense that I talk about in this post, if muscle work releases it.

      I’d suggest asking the massage therapist to explain what she’s doing in more anatomical terms, and if the position of the sacrum and the ilium are part of what she’s looking at when she works on you.

      I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions!

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