Sacroiliac Joints and Yoga

By Niki Vetten

Sacroiliac problems are common in yoga – Chiropractors consider the Sacroiliac joint to be the most common cause of lower back pain, more prevalent than disc problems. The Sacroiliac joint is believed to act as a shock absorber between the legs and the spine and although its movements are very small, restrictions at the joint cause great pain as well as difficulty in forward bending.  Pain is often referred into the buttocks, legs, lower back and neck.

The hip area is complex, as the body’s centre of gravity is located here. Any imbalances in this region have a profound effect on overall body alignment – it is very important to have Sacroiliac joint problems assessed and treated by a competent professional, or destructive imbalances can develop over time. In the pelvic area, many muscles attach from the Iliac bones and Sacrum to the legs and spine and it is the relative balance of strength between these muscle groups that determines the state of the Sacroiliac joint. The stability of the joint is thought to be most affected by the Piriformis, Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris (outer Hamstring) and Erector Spinae muscles.

It is important to build and maintain strength in the hip area but certain yoga asanas can be highly problematic for the Sacroiliac joint, namely:

  • Virabhadrasana 1 and  Parsvakonasana  variations
  • Crescent lunges
  • Standing back bending

Although these asanas are not necessarily a problem for everyone, if you have Sacroiliac trouble, you need to minimise the use of these asanas in your practise.

The reason why Warriors and crescent lunges irritate the Sacroiliac joint is due to the fact that the Iliac bones are rotating in opposite directions – one is going forwards, the other backwards – and the body’s weight is suspended between them. Any differences between the left and right sides of the body will transmit asymmetrical forces into the Sacroiliac area and can cause misalignment.

Back extensions like Bujangasana and Salabhasana are often prescribed by therapists to strengthen the lower back and increase Sacroiliac joint stability, however, standing back bending is considered to overload the joint and should be approached with caution if you have problems. Other asanas which can help to stabilise and protect the Sacroiliac joint are Vasistasana, Anantasana, Purvottanasana, Navasana (especially Parvritta Navasana), Astavakrasana, Parsvabakasana, as well as abdominal strengthening. It is important to do these in ratios balanced between the front, back and sides of the body.

Core body strength should always be greater than leg strength and if your yoga practice consists mainly of leg strengthening postures, you are creating strength imbalance between the legs and the core which may come back to haunt you in the form of Sacroiliac dysfunction

Reading sources: De Franca, 1996, Pelvic Locomotor Dysfunction Kinakin, 2004, Optimal Muscle Training Cook, 2003, Athletic Body in Balance Ellenbecker, De Carlo, DeRosa, 2009, Effective Functional Progressions in Sport Rehabilitation

Author: Niki Vetten

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Visit Niki’s Website: Yoga Anatomy for the Perplexed

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