The sacroiliac joints (SI joints) connect the flat base of your lower spine to the pelvis.
They play important roles in spinal stability and shock absorption.
If the SI joints are injured or become aggravated for some other reason, they can cause pain, discomfort, and produce other related problems.
When sacroiliac joint pain is caused by tightness in surrounding muscle groups, gentle stretching can be an effective pain relief option.
Causes and Symptoms of SI joint Dysfunction
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is a relatively common cause of lower back pain.
There are several possible causes of SI joint dysfunction including injury, certain medical conditions, and pregnancy.
SI pain could also occur as a result of stress on the joints caused by excessive exercise.
Alignment issues that cause surrounding muscles to become tight can also put extra stress on the SI joint.
Often, SI pain is felt in just one sacroiliac joint.
This can be a result of overloading one side of the body from certain activities, or from conditions such as scoliosis, which can cause biomechanical issues.
The most common symptoms of SI joint dysfunction usually include lower back pain or pain in the hip or groin area.
For some people, this pain radiates into the legs. Sacroiliac joint problems may also produce instability, weakness, or feelings of numbness in the lower body.
The symptoms of SI joint pain are similar to some other types of back pain such as sciatica.
It’s important to seek medical advice if you are not sure whether your sacroiliac joint is causing your back pain.
7 Exercises to Relieve Sacroiliac Joint Pain
If tightness in surrounding muscles is causing SI joint pain, there are several therapeutic stretches you can try.
When you gently stretch and release tight muscles it can reduce pressure on the SI joint and nerves, and, in turn, relieve back pain.
If your sacroiliac pain has been caused by pregnancy, a stretching program may not be helpful, and could even be harmful.
This is because your SI joint pain may be caused by increased elasticity in the joints (from the hormone relaxin).
In this case, seek advice from a physical therapist regarding the best physical activity and treatment options.
General guidelines for stretching
- Do a basic, general 5-10 minute warm-up to increase blood flow before stretching. It’s safer and easier to stretch muscles when they are warm
- Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat for a second set if desired
- Stretch only until you can feel the tension in the muscle, but not pain
- Breathe continuously throughout the stretches
The following stretches are listed for educational purposes and are not intended to provide medical advice.
Performed correctly, and for the right reasons, they can be very effective at offering SI joint pain relief, and for spine health in general.[For general lower back pain, try these 7 effective exercises for lower back pain].
1) Hip Adductor Stretch
Our first recommended sacroiliac joint stretch helps to release the adductors, which are the muscles that run along the inner thighs.
They are easily forgotten in stretching routines because you might not realize they are tight until you start stretching them!
Although there are several ways to stretch your inner thighs, we’re going to keep it simple with a standing hip adductor stretch:
- Stand with your legs wide and your feet turned out slightly.
- Keep both feet flat on the floor and turn your right foot out to the side a little more.
- Gently lower your body towards the right by bending your right knee. Place your hands on your right leg, above your knee, for a little support.
- Keep your upper body long and strong, with your spine straight throughout. Hold this position when you can feel a nice stretch along the inside of the left thigh.
- Release gently, and then repeat on the other side.
2) Quadriceps Stretch
The quadriceps stretch can be done either in a standing or lying down position.
Since you’re already standing after the hip adductor stretch, try the standing version.
- Start in an upright position.
- Bend your right leg behind you and take hold of your foot with your right hand.
- Keep your hips in line and your right knee pointing down.
- Pull your foot towards your right buttock, until you feel a nice stretch down the front of your leg.
- You can gently push your hips forward to enhance the stretch.
- If you have trouble balancing, try using a chair or wall for balance. Hold, and then repeat on the left leg.
3) Hamstring Stretches
Hamstring stretches can be done in several different positions, including standing, sitting, and lying down.
We’re going to guide you on how to stretch one leg at a time, in a standing position.
- First, place one foot out in front of you with your heel on the floor and your foot stretching towards you (foot flexed).
- It’s helpful to place your front foot on a slightly raised surface, such as a small step, chair, or bench if you can.
- This can be useful for achieving an effective stretch without needing to lean too far forward.
- Place your hands on your hips and keep your spine straight.
- Gently lean forward from the hips until you feel a stretch down the back of the leg that is in front.
- Keep both knees bent slightly to help protect the knee joints.
- To ease further into the stretch, bent further into the standing leg, lean forward at the hips a little more, or reach towards the foot.
- Pointing the toes of the leg in front can also produce a different feeling in the stretch.
- As your flexibility increases you can try placing your front foot on a higher surface.
- Hold and then repeat on the other side.
4) Knee to Chest Stretch
To perform the knee to chest stretch…
- lie on your back with your legs straight.
- Clasp your hands around one knee and gently pull it down towards the shoulder on the same side of the body.
- Hold it when you feel a stretch in the glute. Slowly lower the leg and then repeat on the other side.
5) Piriformis Stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your right foot off the floor whilst keeping your knee bent.
- Slowly rotate your right hip and place the outside of your right ankle over your left leg, above the knee joint.
- Your right knee should be out to the side, with both hips still square on the floor.
- This is the starting position for the piriformis stretch.
- Raise your upper body, reach through and clasp your hands behind the back of your left leg.
- Lower your upper body back to the floor and pull the left thigh closer towards your body, until you feel a stretch through the right glute.
- Hold, release, then repeat on the other leg by placing the left ankle over your right leg, reaching through, and taking hold of your right thigh.
If you feel knee pain in this exercise, it may be because your hips are very tight and the knees are trying to twist to compensate.
If so, leave this stretch out and focus on the other ones.
6) Lower Trunk Rotation
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend both arms out to the sides with your shoulders flat on the floor.
- This is the starting position to perform lower trunk rotation.
- Gently rotate your spine by lowering your knees to one side for a few seconds, and then to the other side.
- When you have repeated this a few times, hold to one side.
- Ensure the shoulders remain on the floor.
- Then release and repeat on the other side.
7) Abdominal Stretch
- Finally, roll over to your stomach to perform the abdominal stretch.
- Prop yourself up onto your forearms with your elbows below your shoulders and your hands on the floor.
- Keep your legs straight, and hip-width apart to reduce pressure on your lower back.
- Draw your shoulders back and down, away from your ears.
- Open your chest and lift your chin slightly until you feel a stretch through your abdominals and in the front of the hips.
- Pull back slightly on your elbows, without moving your forearms, if you’d like to enhance the stretch.
Other sacroiliac joint pain exercises and tips for sacroiliac joint pain
A few other physical activity recommendations and general lifestyle considerations may help provide SI joint pain relief.
- Changing position regularly, since sitting or standing for long periods may aggravate SI joint pain
- If you have a desk-bound job, consider using a sit-stand desk to allow you to change positions regularly. A proper ergonomic setup is also important to help maintain optimal alignment of the spine
- Yoga postures such as the triangle pose and child’s pose can help reduce tension and pain in the SI joints
- Aquatic therapy is another gentle exercise option for sacroiliac joint pain relief. It can help increase blood flow to the area and strengthen surrounding muscles without overloading the sacroiliac joints
- Other physical therapy exercises that focus on strengthening surrounding muscles can also offer effective SI joint pain relief. These include the glute bridge and the adductor squeeze using a soft ball between the knees.
- You may need to avoid high impact sports and activities that involve excessive twisting at the hips, as well as heavy weight lifting, while your SI joint is healing
Safety Tips for Sacroiliac Joint Pain Exercises
If you are unsure whether you’re executing your SI joint pain stretches correctly, seek advice from a physical therapist.
They will guide you on correct alignment and make sure that you don’t do more harm by performing the stretches incorrectly.
As well, they can recommend a personalized physical therapy exercise program and treatment plan that’s just right for you.
This might include certain exercises that strengthen abdominal muscles, glutes, and other surrounding muscle groups.
The stretches listed are designed to help alleviate SI joint pain. So if your pain gets worse it’s important to stop immediately.
For chronic SI joint pain that does not improve with stretching and lifestyle adjustments, seek professional medical advice.