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What Is Sacroiliac Arthritis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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Sacroiliac arthritis is a condition that results in inflammation and swelling in one or both sacroiliac joints. The joints are located in the middle of the pelvis, and normally help to provide hip stability and shock absorption for the spine. Sacroiliac arthritis is often very painful and can be debilitating, making it impossible for a person to stand, walk, or sit for any amount of time without serious discomfort. Arthritis cannot be cured, but doctors can prescribe medications and suggest physical therapy exercises to help manage the condition. Surgery is considered a final effort if other treatment options do not provide relief.

There are several forms of sacroiliac arthritis, and in most cases pain is not limited to the sacroiliac joints. It is common for person with this type of arthritis to experience stiffness or discomfort in the knees, shoulders, fingers, or neck as well. Osteoarthritis, the gradual degeneration of bone and cartilage tissue, is the primary cause of sacroiliac pain in older people and obese individuals. Rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint swelling and may afflict people of all ages.

When the sacroiliac joints are inflamed, it is very uncomfortable to walk, turn, or bend. The lower back often feels tender to the touch, and a person may actually be able to feel bones in the joint scraping against one another. In severe cases, pain tends to radiate throughout the back and legs. Frequent fevers and feelings of nausea are common with progressive cases of arthritis.

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A doctor can check for signs of sacroiliac arthritis by conducting a physical exam, taking x-rays of the joints, and collecting a blood sample. Diagnostic imaging tests can reveal the severity and exact location of bone and cartilage degeneration in the case of osteoarthritis. Blood tests are useful in confirming the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. Once a physician has determined the type of arthritis involved, he or she can explain treatment options.

Most cases of sacroiliac arthritis can be managed with oral medications. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually effective in relieving acute symptoms. Topical analgesics may be suggested to ease lower back tenderness. Doctors commonly refer patients to physical therapists to help them maintain joint strength and stay mobile despite their conditions.

Surgery is rarely used in the treatment of sacroiliac arthritis. When a surgical procedure is necessary, a specialist can make an incision in the lower back, suction excess fluid from the joint, and permanently fuse bones together to prevent rubbing and further degeneration. Most patients are confined to beds for several weeks or months following surgery, and typically need extensive physical therapy to regain enough strength to sit and stand unassisted.

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