One of the craziest things about the SI joint is that even though it’s only meant to move a few millimeters, when those few millimeters of motion become restricted, it can really wreak havoc on the rest of your body.
Although this joint isn’t meant to move a ton compared to other joints in the body (think of the hip socket, the shoulder, or the knee!) it still plays an important role in our movement chain. It’s not something you would ever notice or think about… until it stops moving.
When there is an imbalance in the pelvis, and the two hip bones (ilia) are rotated forward or backward in relation to the base of the spine (the sacrum), it can throw off a lot of important factors in our posture, as well as alter our gate.
When our pelvis is off-kilter, the rest of our back can end up having to compensate for it. Ultimately, our brain and our nervous system want our eyes to be level with the ground– it’s an important part of our balance system, and how we orient ourselves towards the world.
There is a reflex called the “righting reflex,” where our nervous system automatically tries to make our eyes level. This means we can end up subtly bending at other areas of our back and neck so that our balance system is happy.
Of course, now our spine is out of its normal positioning in other areas as well, which in turn can cause neck and back pain. Our muscles end up having to work harder than they’re supposed to, so they can go into a protective spasm.
These muscle spasms, in turn, can trigger all sorts of other symptoms, such as headache and TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder.
The TMJ thing might sound far-fetched, but I know because I’ve actually felt it happen to me. On some of the days when my SI joints were the most off-kilter, I would wake up with a weird stiffness or pain, usually just on one side of my jaw.
And the funny thing would be that, often on those days, my chiropractor would actually ask me if I was having jaw pain. It can have a lot to do with positioning and stiffness of the neck muscles, which ultimately affect the muscles that control the jaw.
One of the most painful things I’d find, sometimes, is that when my SI joints were rotated out of place, I would have a lot of pain in my mid-back, around my shoulder blades. I would go to do exercises to strengthen those mid-back muscles, which wouldn’t hurt on a different day, and barely able to do 3 repetitions when my SI joints were really off.
When the SI joints are out of alignment, the muscles in the area can tighten up, pulling on the lumbar vertebrae (in other words, the vertebrae in the lower spine). This can create a lot of pain and dysfunction in its own right (for more, you can check out this post).
When our hip bones, or ilia, are rotated forward or backward out of their normal position, this can affect the angle at which our legs hit the ground.
This can cause what is known as a functional short leg syndrome. The word functional means that we don’t actually have one leg that’s shorter than the other, but instead, as a result of the way our bodies are functioning at a given moment in time, it’s as if we do.
I will elaborate more on how functional short leg syndrome happens in its own post, however in this post that’s more about symptoms, let’s go on:
When you have a functional short leg, it can create all sorts of other symptoms.
One of the biggest symptoms I have experienced is foot pain. This is because, when motion is restricted all the way up in the pelvis, it still affects the range of motion of your legs.
When my SI joints were really stuck (which thankfully hasn’t happened in years) it would feel as though someone had tied some sort of a belt around my legs. I couldn’t put one foot very far in front of the other.
As a result, I didn’t have much control over which part of my foot hit the ground first when I walked. My feet would just kind of slam down awkwardly, and sometimes I’d land really hard on my forefoot, instead of landing on my heel.
I also experienced knee pain at times.
Our bodies were designed to move in a certain way, in what’s known as a kinetic chain, or movement chain. Each part depends on another.
When you alter part of that chain (especially if you are significantly altering which part of your foot is hitting the ground when you walk) it can send all kinds of abnormal forces traveling up your leg.
This is why people with SIJ dysfunction can experience foot pain, knee pain, or even pain at the hip socket (which, thankfully, hasn’t happened to me).
These are just some of the secondary symptoms that SI joint dysfunction can cause.
For more, you can look into physical therapist Vicki Sims’ work, particularly on something called “Malalignment Syndrome.” This is a term that she, along with some other knowledgeable medical professionals who work with SI joint dysfunction, use to describe these secondary symptoms.
I have linked to a really great video from her, as well as taken some notes for you, in this post. (I really recommend that you read my post, rather than going straight to her video, because the video can be a bit overwhelming).
Has SI joint dysfunction caused pain and other symptoms in other parts of your body?
Feel free to chime in below, or message me (I always keep your information confidential)– I would like this post to be comprehensive.