The SI joint might as well be the grim reaper if you’re looking online for help with your low back pain.
If you have low back pain or you’ve ever had low back pain and you’ve poked around online, you’ve seen some wild things.
Everything from people getting their leg yanked on to realign their pelvis to muscle energy techniques that use muscular tension to set the bones of the pelvis back into their proper place.
It seems like any time someone has a low back issue that can’t be readily explained by a disc injury, sciatica, or a pulled muscle; the SI joint has to be to blame.
The reason it gets blamed for everything under the sun is simple, and if you re-read the last sentence, you’ll pick up on why.
“If it can’t be readily explained…”
In other words, the SI joint is poorly understood.
It’s easy to blame things we don’t understand.
Time to remedy some of that misunderstanding.
Let’s start with the name SI “joint.” This is where people get tripped up initially. They hear the word joint and think of the rest of the joints in their body, like their hips or knees, and they’ve experienced pain and injuries in those joints, so a connection is made.
The SI joint doesn’t function like the other joints. It has extremely strong and rigid ligaments that support it so that it doesn’t move at all, and depending on your age, especially in males, the joint can become fused.
The SI joint is rigid enough to support the entire upper body without moving.
Let’s put that into context so you can see just how strong the SI joint is;
As of writing this article, the record for the heaviest raw deadlift (no support other than a lifting belt) is 1015 pounds. The SI joint supported that weight and the weight of the upper body of Benedikt Magnusson through the lift.
During sprinting, the maximal for applied through a single leg can be 4-5 times the body weight of the sprinter.
If the SI joint was as fragile as the internet would lead you to believe, these mind bending heavy loads and even things as simple as sprinting would be utterly impossible.
Consider this, the most common cause of actual SI joint injuries is car crashes when someone's knee gets jammed into the dash of the car and the rest of their body keeps moving forward.
In other words, it takes SIGNIFICANT force to displace the SI joint.
The exception to this is pregnant women whose bodies, in preparation to deliver a baby, release a hormone called relaxin which, you guessed it, relaxes the ligaments of the body to allow the baby to pass through the pelvis.
Ok, great! The SI joint is actually incredibly strong, so why do some SI-specific treatments from physical therapists and chiros work?
Every case is different, but it typically boils down to one thing, the tissues of the area become hyper-sensitized, and the nervous system locks down movement in that area to protect it.
The result is pain.
The treatments typically work because they give the nervous system enough confidence to allow movement, and that’s the crux of this article.
SI joint interventions help us feel better by providing soothing confidence to the nervous system, NOT because the SI joint is being coaxed back into place.
When the nervous system feels confident, you feel confident.
Here’s the caveat…
If those treatments work to give you relief, the problem hasn’t been solved; you’ve been given an opportunity to solve the problem.
Something happened to create the sensitivity. Whether it was accumulated strain from a sedentary lifestyle, a sudden increase in activity if you started exercising again, trauma, or anything else, you need to build the resilience necessary to keep yourself from getting into that situation again.
Build strength, stay active, and know this; your body is capable of amazing things.