Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend specific stretches and exercises as part of your sacroiliitis or sacroiliac joint pain treatment plan. Sacroiliitis is inflammation of one or both of your sacroiliac joints that may be caused by pregnancy, injury, infection, different types of arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. Sacroiliac (SI) joint pain is also a symptom related to SI joint dysfunction.
The symptoms of sacroiliitis and SI joint pain may be felt in the low back, buttocks, hips, and legs. Some of these symptoms are similar to sciatica and may mimic other lumbar spinal disorders. Therefore, you may find some of the stretches and exercises included here may also be part of a treatment plan for other low back diagnoses.
#1. Piriformis stretch: The piriformis muscle extends over your hip, and it can aggravate your SI joint when it’s tight. To help stretch that muscle, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your right leg and bring your right knee toward your chest. Gently pull the leg in until you feel a comfortable stretch in your buttock(s). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then lower your leg. Repeat on your left leg. Repeat each side 3 times daily, as needed. Watch a video of the piriformis stretch.
#2. Lower trunk rotation: A lower trunk rotation helps increase flexibility in your low back and hips, which may help relieve pressure on your SI joints. To do this stretch, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your knees together, slowly rotate them to one side—your feet, hips, and spine should not leave the floor. Hold 3-5 seconds, then move your knees to the opposite side. Repeat 5-10 times on each side. See a lower trunk rotation in action.
#3. Bridge: A bridge is a stretch that strengthens the muscles in your low back, buttocks, and hips. Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Your knees should be bent, and feet flat on the ground. Slowly raise your hips while squeezing your buttocks and hamstrings. Hold the raised position for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times. See how a bridge is performed in this video.
Aquatics and Yoga: A Pair of Sacroiliac Joint-Safe Exercises
Aquatics and yoga aren’t the only safe SI joint exercises, but their gentle nature makes them a good choice for staying active. As always, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Aquatic therapy: Aquatic therapy, also known as hydrotherapy or water therapy, is among the gentlest forms of exercise—but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Exercising in water offers a near weightless environment without the forces of gravity. Aquatic therapy uses resistance from the water to improve strength and flexibility. Intense exercise can cause pain by putting pressure on your SI joints, but aquatics conditions your spinal and hip muscles in a stress-free environment.
Yoga. For many people with back pain, yoga is a good choice. The following poses are particularly beneficial for your SI joints:
One Piece of Advice Before Beginning a Stretching and Exercise Routine
Before beginning any new stretching or exercise program, run it by your doctor. You may be able to start the activity on your own. But in many cases, your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist to create a customized exercise and stretching plan for your sacroiliac joint pain.
Your physical therapist will show you exactly what activities can help strengthen your SI joints and how to do them. As a bonus, these movements can also condition your spinal and abdominal muscles, potentially preventing future bouts of back pain.
If you underwent surgery for your SI joint pain, your surgeon prescribed you a customized rehabilitation program that likely included gentle exercise and stretching. Follow those instructions, and above all else, get your surgeon’s approval before engaging in any activity outside of that plan.
Staying Fit with Sacroiliac Joint Pain: Be Careful and Consistent
When you have sacroiliac joint dysfunction, or sacroiliitis, you may need to redefine what physical activity means for you. For many, exercise means strenuous activity—but those activities can do more harm than good if you have SI joint dysfunction. In fact, exercises like heavy weightlifting, contact sports, and excessive biking can put excessive pressure on your SI joints.
A gentle approach to physical activity with stretching and conditioning exercise can effectively manage your low back and hip pain if the activity is performed consistently. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about ways to incorporate healthy exercise into your daily routine. The workout may not feel significant, but the effects on your SI joint pain will be.