Sacroiliac Dysfunction or Sciatica….which do you have?

I hurt my back, the pain is in my gluts and goes down my leg. I’m pretty sure its sciatica.”

 

It could be…but sciatica is over-diagnosed, it’s actually more likely that you’re suffering from sacroiliac (SI) dysfunction (and that’s good news).

The term sciatica has become a catch-all for any pain in the lower back or down the leg. However, many types of low back and hip issues cause similar symptoms. The most common injury that mimics sciatica is sacroiliac dysfunction.

 

What is sciatica?

Sciatica refers to the pinching of a large nerve that originates in the lower back called the sciatic nerve. This nerve travels underneath the piriformis muscle, along part of the hamstring to behind your knee where it splits into two. One branch (the tibial nerve) travels to the back of the lower leg and the foot. The other branch (the peroneal nerve) travels to the side and front of the lower leg and the foot.

The nerve can become pinched due to spinal misalignments, disc issues, muscle tension, arthritis or spinal stenosis. Tension, severe pain, numbness and tingling can result.

What is sacroiliac dysfunction?

Your sacroiliac joints (aka your pelvis) are made up of three bones, one sacrum with two ilium. These are the bones we sit on and they help to support our spine.

Every time you walk or sit, your SI joints distribute the force across the pelvis, thereby reducing strain on the spine

Excessive sitting, a lack of core strength, improper lifting and poor posture all put extra strain on the SI joints which can cause them to “lock up”. When the joints don’t move or align correctly that SI joint dysfunction occurs.

 

The 2 issues can feel very similar and are often hard to differentiate. Here are a list of their symptoms:

Symptoms of sciatica:

  • Moderate to severe pain in lower back, buttock and legs
  • Numbness or weakness in the lower back, buttock, leg or feet
  • Pain that worsens with activity/movement
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Burning pain in legs that may not be accompanied by back pain
  • “Pins and needles” in the legs, or feet
  • In severe cases loss of bowel and bladder control (due to cauda equina)

Symptoms of SI joint dysfunction:

  • Moderate to severe pain in the lower back that may shoot down the leg
  • Pain and tension often made worse by long period of sitting
  • Tension in the buttocks, back of legs and/or IT Band
  • Loss of strength in the buttocks and leg (leg may feel like it wants to buckle)
  • Groin pain
  • Pain when first getting up from a sitting position or changing positions
  • Pain on the inside of the knee

 

How else can you tell the difference?

One clue is how far the pain radiates. Pain from the SI joint doesn’t usually travel beyond the knee, but can cause calf tension.

Sacroiliac pain is very common in people who sit for long periods of time, and unless the condition is severe, sacroiliac pain often improves during short walks.

The only reliable way to determine whats causing your symptoms is to see a chiropractor that has the scope of practice, training and experience to diagnose your issue.

The good news is that sacroiliac syndrome is far more common than sciatica and tends to resolve more quickly! We have helped thousands of people with both SI dysfunction and sciatica feel like themselves and ensure the issues don’t return.

For more information on sacroiliac syndrome, sciatica and how to sit to avoid these issues please watch the videos below: