How I healed my SI joints without surgery

I realized yesterday that everything I’ve written about my own road to healing really comes down to two factors:

  1. Letting sprained ligaments heal
  2. Building muscle strength

These two factors make up two equally important sides of the same coin.  You need both for healing.  Unfortunately, you’ll also have to balance one against the other.

Why?  Let’s look in more detail.

1) Letting sprained ligaments heal

Basically, SI joint injuries occur when some sort of trauma or overuse sprains the ligaments that are meant to hold the joint in proper alignment.

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ligaments of the SI joint

When a ligament is sprained, it means there has been “a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints” (check out this article from the Mayo Clinic).

The unfortunate reality is that when a ligament has been sprained/stretched out, it may never completely heal and shorten back up to its original length.

However, it can still heal and tighten back up to an extent, so that at least the acute injury phase/inflammation is over, and it becomes a little more stable.

So part of recovering from an SI joint injury requires allowing the ligaments to heal, and not continuing to perform motions or activities that continue to re-injure them, or possibly cause them to become even more stretched out.

For me, this corresponds to the parts of my story where I talked about learning to adjust my motion patterns and habits, so as not to put more strain on the joint:

It also meant eventually coming to the conclusion that receiving chiropractic adjustments to the area were more trouble than they were worth, because of how they stressed the ligaments:

Essentially, you need to cut way back on anything that stresses the joint, so that your ligaments have a chance to calm things down.  If you keep stressing them and continually pushing them outside of their normal range of motion, you’ll prolong your healing process (or possibly never heal).

(Side note: This is why people use prolotherapy: its purpose is to try to help ligaments tighten back up).

2) Building muscle strength

The other equally important thing you need to do is build your muscle strength back up to where it was before the injury– and then some.

posterior_hip_muscles_3

Because the truth is, you’ll probably never be able to count on your ligaments to the way you were able to before your injury (not that it’s something you ever had to think about consciously! They were just quietly doing their job).

However, when your muscles are strong enough, they can “take over” for ligaments that have been stretched out.

You have all sorts of major muscle groups that contribute to the stability of the SI joint, and when they are strong enough, they can support the joint to the extent that you may no longer notice your ligaments being sprained.

This is essentially what happened for me.  I know my ligaments will never quite tighten back up to the way they used to be.  But once I stopped constantly re-spraining them with chiropractic adjustments and got physically stronger, my joints stopped moving out of place.  I stopped having to think about my movement patterns as much, because my muscles were holding my joints stable.

3) Uniting the two factors

Unfortunately, when your ligaments are already sprained, building muscle strength will probably be easier said than done.

Your muscles and joints were designed to move with your ligaments holding things in place.  Without them doing their job, things get a little bit tricky.  Normal movements that wouldn’t have hurt before can end up putting way too much stress on your joint.

This is why I truly consider aquatic therapy and pool exercise to be the key to my recovery.

In the water, you weigh so much less; your body is protected from the force of sudden impact.  For me, it was the best way to give my muscles a workout without further irritating my ligaments.

For the first few weeks following my injury, I only seemed to get worse (despite the fact that I was in land-based physical therapy, and my PT said she was giving me exercises that would help my SI joint).

My chiropractor is the one who insisted, over and over, that I join a gym with a pool, and I have to admit he turned out to be right.  The moment I finally started doing aquatic exercises is the moment I truly started to get stronger.

That’s why I’m such a huge advocate of aquatic therapy now.  People email me asking for exercise recommendations all the time, and although I know the idea of pool exercise can be a bit daunting (and potentially expensive) it is really the best thing I can suggest.

This isn’t to say that you can’t get better if you don’t have access to a pool.  But I can only write based on my experience, so I will count the day I joined a pool as one of the key turning points on my road to recovery.

For more, I’ve written a few posts on Strengthening, including:

I’ve also written a few posts on Aquatic Therapy specifically, including:

Conclusion

Gosh.  Okay, that was a lot of information.  Hopefully you were able to follow what I was trying to say.

The SI joint is a super complex subject– which is what can make it kind of fun to write about.  But it’s also why I personally struggled with it for over five years before finding the answers I needed.  That’s why I’m so determined to share what I’ve learned.

I have a lot of ideas for upcoming content, including some more visual explanations and even (potentially) videos!  Please stay tuned!

If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment below.

And just a note– 

There are many people who decide to proceed with SI joint stabilization surgery, or require other forms of treatment such as prolotherapy.  The purpose of this post is not to make a value judgement on anyone else’s path to healing, or imply that you should be able to heal without surgery.

I am simply sharing what worked for me, and I’m grateful that the extent of my injury wasn’t worse, so that I could recover in the way I did.  What worked for me may not work for everyone, which is why I make an effort to address other potential avenues for healing on my blog.

21 thoughts on “How I healed my SI joints without surgery

  1. Angie says:

    I feel like I’m reading about myself! Thank you so much for writing about your recovery! I’m am excited and hopeful for the first time in a very long time! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!!!

    Like

    • Josh says:

      Excellent write ups!! I have though same theory about the chiros. All make sense. First I’d heard of prolotherapy, very intriguing. I was wondering if you have any suggestions on yoga videos for strengthening and still protecting from stretching ligaments and tendons too much?

      Like

    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Mel,
      I personally didn’t use an SI belt. I tried one on once and didn’t like the way it seemed to be restricting my movement, so I took it off. However, the shape of individual people’s SI joints can be really different, as can be the nature of our injuries. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. I do know of others who have found belts to be helpful, so I still think they are worth a try.

      Like

    • Cat says:

      Hi, just like to say I totally agree with the pool for strengthening the SI joint, i have had chronic SIJD for over a year and could barely walk across the room but after one 10 minute sesssion I felt the difference. I would also like to mention I do wear an Sij belt and it worked really well for me, I’m still recovering because I have a failed l4/5 fusion which I think is the reason for my SIJD and not sure if I will ever fully recover until I have revision surgery on my spine, does anyone else have this issue?

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      • sunlight in winter says:

        Hi Cat, sorry to hear about what you’re going through. That’s really great that the pool has been helpful for you, however. Hopefully someone else will chime in if they’ve had a similar issue– I will say that I think it makes a lot of sense to think your failed fusion could be the cause of your SIJD. If you have restricted or abnormal motion at the lumbar spine, this can definitely affect way forces travel through your SI joints, and your body will have to compensate. It’s hard to say if you could recover without revision surgery– I think it would depend on the degree to which your overall spinal motion is currently being affected. But certainly, doing whatever you can to build up your strength in the meantime is key! Wishing you the best of luck in your recovery.

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      • Lorna says:

        Thank you so much for all the time and energy you have put into this fabulous blog. I have my SI joint pain 3 and a half years and can’t believe I haven’t come across it sooner. After little or no relief from the usual treatments, I have been comfortable and pain free for almost 2 years by drinking celery juice, which I’d only started taking to heal some stomach problems. The anti inflammatory effect on my SI joint was a pleasant surprise, but it only works if I stay away from all exercise except walking. No-go activities like weight training or even gardening can still send me back to square one. I need a plan so I can get life back to normal and look forward to doing some gardening without a relapse. I’m so grateful for all the information you’ve shared here. I’m going to use it as my blueprint.

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      • Colleen Kent says:

        Hi Cat …. wandering how you are doing now. I too had L4-5 in 2018. Stayed bed ridden for 20 months. Traveled to see Dr Jerry Heash. My pelvis was locked on both side and in an bilateral upslip position. Fortunately Dr Heash out of 9 different physical therapists was the only one that helped me. Although I am no longer bed ridden. I am
        Still in tremendous pain on my SI joints. Thinking my weak muscles in back like QL , Piriformis, and glutes have a lot to do with it as well. So I am also using pool therapy to try to strengthen myself. Plus seeing a therapist twice a week. Christie has a lot of great information as well. But you seem to be in my shoes with the fusion. My hardware was removed and I think it made me worse. May I ask how you’re doing now? And if you’re doing good what did you do to get there. Of course I’m losing patience after all this time. After my second surgery June 2019. I did spend 18 to 20 hours a day in the bed. So I know it’s going to take me some time. But yesterday my sacrum felt like a four-story building was on top of it. After my second surgery June 2019. I did spend 18 to 20 hours a day in the bed. So I know it’s going to take me some time. But yesterday my sacrum felt like a four-story building was on top of it Welp !
        Very challenging. Thankfully for Christie, and for me revisiting this blog I just found a Met therapist in my area. Although I do love mine I don’t think she’s helping me as much as I need. Thankfully for Christie, and for me revisiting this blog I just found a Met therapist in my area. Although I do love mine I don’t think she’s helping me as much as I need.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tina Smith says:

    Thank you for writing this down. I got more information here than any other site.
    I am 58 and went to Zumba for the first time. Guess I did something I shouldnt as the next day I was really hurting. After Dr visits and no help but pain pillz I went to
    a chiropractor who said I had tilted my pelvis, I had been walking lopsided for a few weeks and he said he wasn’t surprised I hurt …Well 4 visits later I was hurting more and one morning I woke writhing in pain my husband having to call 911 as I couldn’t walk.
    I have never had back pain so this is all new to me. So again Thankyou !!

    Like

  3. Trish says:

    I would like to thank you for your blog. It was an answered prayer. After almost four years of chronic pain I finally feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Learning how to adjust myself was the turning point. I feel like I can now start to strengthen without being in excruciating pain. I’ve tried chiropractors, orthopedics, had X-ray , and mri. Tried physical therapy but it put me in so much pain I had to stop. Thank you for all of the helpful information you put out there.

    Like

  4. Sneha says:

    Hey,

    Loved the positive details in your journey. It is inspiring. I have experience two episodes of Pain. First time was July 2017 which lasted for a month and this time it is August 2018 and it has been a month. Last time it was me sitting for 8 hours for 5 days while the screen was towards my left. This time it happened with wrong posture while picking up a 20 pounds weight. I don’t have complete diagnosis nut based on my reading I feel I am having SI joint issues.

    Can you tell how to know how severe is the issue?

    Like

  5. Kayla says:

    I agree with all the above – your blog is immensely helpful and at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to figure this all out for myself (in a perfect world I’d go to PT daily to get realigned but insurance would never pay for that). I’m right at the two year mark and had I of known al thatl I know now, I would not be in this painful mess. Hopefully all this info helps someone out early in their journey and helps them avoid surgery, etc.

    Like

    • Sunlight in Winter says:

      Hi Benjamin, Actually I would definitely not recommend using nsaids in order to work out, if you were in too much pain otherwise. That’s because, with the SI joint, you really don’t know exactly what’s causing the pain, and what you DO want is for those ligaments, which have likely been sprained, to heal. Pain can be a sign that the joint is out of place— meaning the ligaments are also stressed and out of place— and that really isn’t something you want to push through. A good PT can teach you to realign the joint yourself, in a gentle way called the Muscle Energy Technique.

      And to start out with exercise, I recommend aquatic exercise where you’re putting so much less weight on your joints, or also starting out with some really gentle core exercises like these, which you can do lying down: https://sijointsaga.com/2017/06/19/core-training/

      Like

  6. KitchEnchantress says:

    I injured my SIJs when a nurse did not move me properly from a recovery bed to a wheelchair. I fell limply onto the floor. The damage from this fall was massive. Both hip labrums tore; bilateral hip bursitis emerged, which is still with me; both SIJs were badly sprained; two lumbar discs both tore and bulged; there was extensive facet joint damage; the pubic joint was badly damaged, resulting in chronic inflammation and instability; and there was a coccyx fracture. A bunch of soft tissue injuries resulted as well, for the reason I was in the hospital in the first place was because of an abdominal injury. The fall made that injury quite a lot worse.

    I tried PT for a year and a half, and I put my heart and soul into it because I wanted to get better. But it made my injuries notably more severe, so I gave up on PT and had screws drilled into my back two months ago. (That’s on top of three other surgeries that were done to fix my hips & some soft tissue stuff.) Before the back surgery was done, I had an X-ray done for which I stood first on one leg, then the other. When I stood on my right leg – the side onto which I had fallen in the hospital – my entire pelvis shifted upwards by a couple of inches and my pubic bone per se separated pretty widely. The pelvis stayed stable when I stood on my left leg. So in addition to having screws drilled into my lower spine & right SIJ, they drilled screws into the pubic bone to stabilize it, too. Before the fall in the hospital, I had zero back issues, zero chronic pain, zero disability. I walked three miles every day and was just very active in general; I could never sit still. I haven’t been outside other than for medical stuff in two years. I have trouble remembering what it is like to live without pain. But I know that is how I used to live.

    My husband and I were unable to find a lawyer to fight for financial compensation because the nurse did not report the fall. There appears to be zero recourse for a patient if the medical personnel do not report the adverse event. I don’t know what can be done to fight this – put cameras in hospitals? Have no-fault victim’s compensation like Sweden and New Zealand do? This has devastated me physically and mentally; I am a broken person. I am still young – quite young, in fact – but I feel ancient and defeated by life. My husband feels defeated, too. The medical establishment owes me better treatment than this, but it failed utterly and then doubled down on this failure.

    You may not read this, but I needed to share. I was naive before this happened in that I thought people would actually care if someone’s life were destroyed by medical negligence. The truth is that nobody cares – not the nurse who did this to me, not the hospital for which she worked, not the many, many doctors I’ve since seen for injections, surgeries, exams, etc., etc., not the dozens of lawyers I’ve called to try to seek a legal remedy. They say my medical records definitely indicate that I was injured but that, because the nurse didn’t report the fall, it would be very hard to prove to a jury that she is at fault. That nurse is still out there working with patients and I feel genuine fear that she has hurt someone else or will do so soon. Yet my husband and I seem to be the only ones who care. The doctors et al. around here don’t seem to care. Patient safety is a sham and your life can be ruined and no one will care. There is no recourse. There is no financial help.

    To say I feel hopeless about the future is an understatement. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to doing normal activities. I am awake and unable to sleep because my period has caused so much agony in my back that I fell about weeping not too long ago, unable to bear the pain. I never had period pain like this before I was injured. This is bad enough I am going to get a hysterectomy once I find the right doctor. I cannot take this period pain anymore.

    Thank you for your blog.

    Like

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