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Fix Low Back Pain Caused by SI Joint

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Until recently, I have been dealing with chronic, often severe back and hip pain.  It started over 3 years ago and plagued me off and on through all of our travels around the world, during workouts, at work, and even while sleeping.  When we were doing a Workaway (work exchange) gig near Bordeaux, France in spring 2014, I could barely get out of bed and could not stand up straight the pain was so intense.  I have a high threshold for pain so I knew this was bad.  Terrible scenarios ran through my mind… Do I have a slipped disc?  Do I need a hip replacement?  Is it some sort of degenerative disease?

During this time I had also noticed an odd change in my posture.  I felt like my lower back was curved more than it used to be pushing my butt and chest out more.  My husband didn’t mind (haha) but it seemed to me like something wasn’t right.  I found myself constantly trying to suck in my belly button and hold myself straight.  I thought I was losing all of my abdominal and core strength because I couldn’t hold it there.  Since I couldn’t work out that seemed to make sense.  

My pain was difficult to pinpoint.  Some days it ran down my right leg seemingly coming from the right hip.  My hip would click with every step adding to my misery.  Other days I was sure it was a specific vertebra in my lower spine that was pinching a nerve.  The muscles at the top of my butt would tighten and contribute to the issue.  Sometimes the muscles in my thigh would tighten.  It was not uncommon for my IT band to hurt all the way to my right foot.

I am not the type to go to a doctor.  I rarely take a little ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.  I prefer ice for swelling, heat for tight or sore muscles and natural remedies such as muscle relaxing creams or oils, massage, and stretching.  In the past I’ve had success with chiropractic care.  I knew I would figure this out and fix myself.  However, the pain continued despite my best efforts!  I would find something that gave me some relief for a short period, like my amazing acupuncturist in California, but then something else would trigger the pain to return.  I couldn’t get ahead!

By the time we arrived in Maui, Hawaii last September 2016, I was frustrated, still in pain, out of shape and felt there was no natural solution.  But then I was given a gift.  My gift came in the form of our roommate, a Physical Education teacher at the high school in Lahaina who coached the cross country team and ran in several marathons.  We were talking marathons, and I told him I hadn’t been able to run for a long time because of the pain in my back.  He asked for more details about the pain.  As I explained all of my issues, he started nodding and had that look in his eye that said “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”  Turns out, he had experienced the same thing and had the same non-traditional medicine approach to taking care of himself!

“I think you have a SI joint problem.”  A what?  I had never heard of the SI joint.  He explained it to me, it’s the sacroiliac joint deep in your pelvis, and promised to send me a specific set of exercises to do.  “Do these faithfully every day and I promise you will feel better.”  It was amazing!  I started seeing improvement in only one week!!

If any of this sounds familiar, I hope you try the techniques I have used to improve my back and hip pain.  I have made HUGE progress in the past 6 months.  Most recently I have had 2 friends say they have similar symptoms and begged me to pass along all the information about how I’ve fixed myself.  That’s when I realized I needed to share my journey here.  Please remember that I am not a medical professional or expert in any medical field.  I cannot be held responsible for any injuries you may experience using these techniques.  See our disclaimer.

#1Do these exercises from Egoscue.  I am still discovering the methods of this company but I can attest that these exercises triggered the start of my journey back to a pain free life.

#2 – Read about the Sacroiliac Joint.  I found this page with a great video and actually found the medical journal in the video before finding the video!  😉
Video about SI Joint
In depth medical journal about SI Joint

#3 – Use a tens unit.  I highly recommend this.  The concept here is stimulating the tight muscles (actually over-stimulating) to help them relax and get blood flow to the area for healing.  These nifty devices are available for purchase by anyone, no prescription necessary.  I love this one:
Omron electroTHERAPY Pain Relief Device PM3030
I use mine across the top of my glutes where the muscles get especially tight, down my thigh on either side of my quad muscle and on the hip flexor (front of hip where you bend forward). I can usually feel the tightness in all of these areas. By “zapping” these areas, the muscles release and allow me to get a better stretch (step 4) and less pain because the tightness is what’s contributing to my pain. I actually start at points farthest from the source and work my way up, so down near my knee then up to the hip flexor then to my glute. I turn it up as high as I can stand it!

#4 – Stretch!! The hip flexor and my glutes are where I notice most of my tightness so as often as possible I stretch those areas out. Check out this quick description of the shortening of the hip flexors over time and stretches to lengthen them back out. 

My three favorite stretches for these areas are:
♥ A tiny lunge with my left leg forward to stretch the right flexor making sure to tilt my pelvis down and forward.  Then switch sides.  I feel that I can do this stretch anywhere without touching the ground or having people looking at me funny.
♥ Grabbing my ankle behind my back either standing or laying on my side.  Laying down is usually easier for balance of which I have none.
♥ Figure four stretch

#5 – Apply ice and/or heat as needed.  There are times when I will aggravate the joint or the muscles associated with supporting the SI joint.  I usually start with ice to reduce inflammation.  I will apply heat on occasion to loosen the muscles but I prefer the tens unit over heat.

#6 – Apply muscle relaxing creams as needed.  I do experience temporary relief from applying these.  I think the self massage while putting them on helps more than anything.  I typically use these before a workout and sometimes at night before bed.  My favorite so far is this one:
Neotica Analgesic Balm for Relief of Muscular Aches and Pains 60g (2.1 oz)

#7 – Exercise!  I put this at the end of the list because I wasn’t able to start exercising again until I had 3 months of self therapy under my belt.  When I did start up again, it was a CHALLENGE!!  I’ve been using the Nike app called NTC for rebuilding my strength. It was a rough start but my diligence is paying off. My approach was to plug in super basic info… I’m a beginner working out at home with no equipment. That got me the easiest workouts (which were still really hard at first) and I’m slowly building from there. Plenty of times, I don’t even do everything because I can’t. It’s a tough road back but I am feeling sooooo much better than where I started 6 months ago.

Contact me if you have any questions!  I would love to know about your SI journey and if any of these tips help you too.