SI Joint Fusion: Does It Really Work?

SI Joint FusionPeople who suffer from chronic back pain are in a constant search for relief from their symptoms. Some treatments, such as over the counter pain medication and massage, provide temporary relief but not a permanent solution. People in this situation may want to consider a surgical treatment.

SI Joint Fusion is a popular and successful surgical method for reducing or eliminating back pain. This procedure is fast, minimally invasive and effective for a vast majority of patients. After a short recovery time, most patients are back on their feet and enjoying life without back pain.

What Is SI Joint Fusion?

Pelvis Anterior View

Pelvis Anterior View

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Fusion is a medical procedure for the treatment of back pain, especially lower back pain. It involves the use of screws or inserts to stabilize the sacroiliac joint, usually by fusing it to the spine. This reduces the movement of the sacroiliac joint which may lead to a reduction in back pain.

Sacroiliac Joint Fusion is often used when other pain treatment therapies have been unsuccessful. For some patients, exercise and NSAID pain relievers cannot fully mitigate their symptoms. This minimally invasive surgery may be the solution that they have been looking for.

The sacroiliac joint fusion process is often recommended because as many as 25% of people with back problems experience SI joint pain, according to the Virginia Spine Institute. This technique can virtually eliminate this type of pain at the source. There are different methods that can be used to complete the Sacroiliac (SI) joint fusion surgery and patients should consult with a doctor to find out the best choice for their needs.

How Does Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Fusion Work?

Sacroiliac joint fusion reduces back pain by targeting the source of the painful symptoms. This type of pain is caused when the ligaments around the joint lose strength or become inflamed. This can cause the joint to bend, stretch or expand in painful way. This pain may be felt in the lower back, the buttocks or even the legs.

In order to stop this pain, the joint must be secured in place. If the ligaments around the SI joint are not working properly, the pelvis can be secured to the base of the spine at the sacrum so that both bones can work together. Once the SI joint cannot shift freely, the pain will be reduced.

One of the most successful SI joint fusion methods is known as the iFuse implant system. This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting titanium implants through a small incision in the buttocks. The implants are secured in place so that they keep the SI joint stable.

The iFuse system is far less complicated and intrusive than normal SI fusion surgeries. This significantly reduces recovery time while delivering an extremely high success rate, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health.

Who Is A Candidate for Sacroiliac Joint Fusion?

Sacroiliac joint fusion may be a great choice for a wide variety of people. Typical patients include people who:

  • Suffer ongoing or chronic back pain, hip pain or leg pain
  • Have developed sacroiliitis, or inflammation of the sacral joint
  • Have new back pain after the age of 50

This surgery may also be useful for people who have suffered an injury or trauma to their lower back or pelvis. Sacroiliac joint fusion is typically used as a treatment for back pain that develops later in life.

People considering this surgery may want to know some pros and cons before choosing the surgery. Pros include:

  • Significantly reduced back pain
  • Less stress on the sacroiliac joint
  • Longer lasting than SI injections
  • Minimally invasive and usually free of complications

There may be some cons for this surgery as well. Cons include:

  • Potential for scarring and infection at surgery site
  • Soreness and swelling post-surgery
  • Several weeks of recovery time
  • May not relieve back pain significantly in all cases

Overall, this surgery is ideal for most patients who need serious pain relief that is long lasting and comprehensive. Of course, surgery is not the right option for everyone and back pain sufferers should consult with their doctors before making any major decision regarding sacroiliac joint fusion.

Does It Really Work?

As with many medical procedures, some people may be unconvinced of the efficacy of sacroiliac (SI) joint fusion. However, there are medical studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of this treatment.

For example, a study from the National Institutes of Health published in 2013 confirmed that, out of 40 patients who received sacroiliac joint fusion, 39 patients reported clinically significant pain reduction in as little as six weeks. In fact, patients rated their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after the surgery. Post-surgery, most patients reported a 7-point reduction in the intensity of their back pain symptoms.

All 40 patients reported that they would undergo the procedure again for similar results and no complications were reported. The study concluded that the procedure was safe and effective for most patients.

Conclusion

If you experience a significant amount of back pain, relief can seem nearly impossible to find. If you have tried NSAID pain relievers, stretching, exercise and massage to treat your back pain and you still experience painful symptoms, you may have an SI problem. It’s possible that your spine has become unstable as a result of SI inflammation or movement.

Consult with a physician to rule out other potential causes for your back pain. If it’s true that you have an SI issues, sacroiliac joint fusion could be the answer that you need for chronic back pain.

This treatment is covered by some insurance plans. It is typically a brief outpatient procedure that takes about one hour. You can normally go home after the surgery but you will have to take some precautions for several weeks. Your physician may ask you to walk with a cane or support for up to weeks after the surgery. Following that, you may need to walk carefully for an additional four weeks to ensure complete and proper healing.

Chronic or severe back pain is one of the most often cited reasons for missing work or avoiding certain strenuous physical activities. It will affect more than 90% of adults during their lives. Back pain costs the U.S. billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, according to a study from the NIH. Based on extensive evidence, SI Joint Fusion surgery is one of the most promising treatments currently available.

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