Lumbar Rotation vs. SI Joint Dysfunction

Update, July 2018: My perspective on this issue is currently evolving, due to some recent experiences.  I now believe lumbar rotation is not the most accurate term to use– instead, I prefer segmental spinal hypermobility.  To find out why, start here!

I’m leaving this post up so that you can see my thought process, and how my understanding has evolved over time.

So here is the original post:

Although I have come to regret all of the time and money I’ve spent seeing chiropractors, there is one very useful thing that has come out of that time for me.

I did find two chiropractors over the years who I did find to be very skilled at identifying the problem– even if I found that their actual treatments were too destabilizing.

Through all my visits with them, I came to find I got better at being able to diagnose myself, and understand what was going on with my spine and pelvis from week to week.

One of the things I’ve learned is that when your low back muscles are tight and/or weak, they can pull unevenly on the vertebrae of your lumbar spine, causing them to rotate to one side or another.

Lumbar vertebrae:


For me, when this happened, some of the symptoms were very similar to when my SI joint was stuck.  It took repeated chiropractic visits– in which I made my chiropractors actually stay in the room and explain things to me, instead of just adjusting me and walking away– that I began to learn how to diagnose my own symptoms.

What does it feel like?

When my lower back muscles spasm and pull my lumbar vertebrae into rotation, it gives me the feeling that my whole body is twisted through the lower back and pelvis.  It also sometimes gives me the sensation that one side of my body is “up higher” than the other, due to the way my lower back muscles are pulling.

(As I went on to learn in my PT prerequisite classes, your body has a lot of different mechanisms that go into your sense of balance and knowing where your limbs are located in space.  Many of these mechanisms rely on input from our muscles and joints.  When your spine is significantly off-kilter, it can begin to mess with your sense of being balanced).

When this happens, I know it’s not the SI joint, however, because I am still able to raise my legs up in front of me normally.  I still feel awkward walking, and feel as though I am walking more slowly, but if I really stop and test my ability to raise each individual leg, I still can.

The second major difference I’ve found is that, generally, this problem will correct itself over the next few days, if I back off and stop doing anything that will aggravate my lower back.

This is very different from the SI joint, because once that joint locks, in my experience it will remains stuck without a specific adjustment by a trained person.   No amount of rest or random movement will be able to free it.  The only way to get it back in to place again is to perform a very precise adjustment to cause the posteriorly rotated ilium to rotate forwards again.

I wish now that I had not have wasted my time going to the chiropractor for this type of low back pain.

Now I know that it goes away on its own, with rest.  And exercise that doesn’t make it worse, such as exercising upright in the deep end of a pool and letting your legs hang down, helps.  You do have to strengthen those lower back muscles in order to keep the problem from recurring.

I still feel this problem happen sometimes– I actually think I’ve done a better job strengthening the muscles around my SI joints than my lower back (definitely need to work on that).

But when it happens, I don’t freak out and go to the chiropractor.  I just take a few days off from doing whatever I was doing that made it worse, and continue to do my pool exercises.


Lumbar spine GIF: Anatomography

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