Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercises for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

The sacroiliac joint, also referred to as the SI joint, is at the base of the spine where the spine and hip meet. Dysfunction of this joint can cause excruciating low-back and leg pain. Aerobic exercise, muscular strengthening, stretching, and heat and ice can all be effective ways to manage or improve the pain associated with SI joint dysfunction.

An aerobics class.
Credit: Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images

Aerobic Exercise

Due to its position at the base of the spine, the SI joint is especially susceptible to the impact that physical activity can create. The key is to find aerobic exercises that do not place a lot of stress on the low back, such as swimming, walking or exercising on an elliptical machine. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow throughout the body, which aids in muscle tissue repair. The endorphins that are released during cardiovascular activity also act as an analgesic, which will help to lessen SI joint pain. Aim for the American Heart Association's recommendation of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week.

Muscle Strengthening

Strengthening the muscles in your low back encourages stability of the SI joint, making it stronger and less susceptible to pain and injury. Try this exercise, called a bridge, to strengthen your low-back muscles: Begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your hips off the floor while tightening your abdominal and gluteal muscles. Hold this position for at least 10 seconds, and slowly lower your hips back to the ground. Start with five repetitions, and gradually work up to 20.

Low-Back Stretch

Increasing the flexibility of low-back muscles may help to relieve tightness and discomfort caused by SI joint pain. A knee-to-chest stretch is an effective way to release tension in the muscles of the low back. To perform this stretch, begin by lying on your back on a firm surface. Bring one knee toward your chest, grasping your hands behind your knee and pulling your leg in close to your body. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then release. Repeat five times on each leg, and gradually increase to 15 repetitions.

Ice and Heat

Ice and heat are both effective agents in treating the pain associated with SI joint dysfunction. Ice is best used immediately after the onset of pain, as it reduces blood flow and inflammation. Apply ice for no longer than 15 minutes. Heat packs are also an effective for managing pain; they can even be used prior to exercise to help muscles relax. Apply a heating pad or warm compresses for up to 20 minutes. Try alternating between heat and ice for maximum therapeutic benefit.

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