Acupuncture for Sacroiliac Pain
The sacroiliac joint connects the bottom of the spine (the ‘sacrum’) with the pelvis (the ‘ilium’ ). Problems with this joint can arise from a traumatic injury such as a fall, from misalignment of the joint or from inflammatory joint disease (e.g. ankylosing spondylitis). Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also affect the sacroiliac joint.
Dysfunction of the joint typically causes a dull ache around the base of the spine, which can become a sharp pain during activities such as sitting down, bending, lifting etc. Pain may also be felt in the groin, buttock and at the back of the thigh.
Sacroiliac Pain and TCM
Pain in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. In the case of sacroiliac pain, the obstruction is in one or more of the meridians which flow through the lower back So treatment will involve freeing up that flow of Qi through this area, and this will usually involve acupuncture; massage and cupping therapy may also help, as may a topical herbal application.
However, it is also important to understand why the Qi is getting stuck, and from the perspective of TCM there are several possible causes of this, including the following:
i) A single traumatic injury to the area will have temporarily damaged the meridians and blocked the flow of Qi. This is the most straightforward case and unless the injury is particularly severe a few treatments will usually be enough to substantially reduce the pain if not eradicate it completely.
ii) If the problem is due to repetitive strain, this may have weakened the Qi locally. Treatment here will involve a balance between strengthening the Qi and getting it to move.
iii) Sometimes the Qi is blocked due to what TCM calls a ‘pathogenic factor’ obstructing the flow; this is a form of external Qi which blocks the body’s own Qi. For example, if you are someone who feels the cold easily, and have been exposed to a cold environment, then a Cold pathogen may have entered the channels in the low back and, as it were, ‘frozen’ the Qi there. The low back, in fact, is often particularly vulnerable to cold. In this case as well as moving the Qi with acupuncture, we will want to warm the area, perhaps using moxibustion and warming topical applications. We will also, of course, advise you to keep yourself warm! Other common pathogenic factors are Damp and Heat; in the former case the area may feel heavy and perhaps be a little swollen; in the latter it may be warm and slightly red.
iv) Sacroiliac pain may also point to underlying systemic disharmony. Our careful questioning at the initial consultation will give us a clear idea of any such disharmony, and in this case local treatment of the area will be supplemented by treatment to rebalance your Qi overall, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Sacroiliac Pain?
A recent (2007) large scale trial of acupuncture in the treatment of low back pain found acupuncture to be almost twice as effective as the conventional therapy of pain-killing drugs, physiotherapy and exercise1.
As one of the researchers commented, “acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain. Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain – and therefore in their quality of life.” 2
1 Haake M. et al (2007) German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Sep 24;167(17):1892-8
2 Boyles, S. (2007) Study: Acupuncture Eases Low Back Pain Available at: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=84091