Sacroiliac Joint Fusion: Your Path to Mobility

Are you suffering from debilitating lower back or hip pain? Has it become a constant companion, restricting your mobility and quality of life? 

If you've explored various treatments and found little relief, sacroiliac joint fusion might be the answer to your prayers. 

This comprehensive guide will delve into this procedure, answering key questions, sharing patient experiences, and providing a roadmap to help you regain mobility.

What is sacroiliac joint fusion?

Sacroiliac joint fusion is a surgical procedure designed to treat chronic pain and dysfunction in the sacroiliac joint, which is located at the base of the spine where the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine) and the ilium (part of the pelvis) meet. 

The sacroiliac joint, commonly referred to as the SI joint, plays a crucial role in transmitting forces from your upper body to the legs while providing stability and absorbing shock.

When the SI joint becomes damaged, it can lead to chronic pain, instability, and limited mobility. Sacroiliac joint fusion is a surgical procedure designed to alleviate these issues by stabilizing the joint.

When do you need a sacroiliac joint fusion?

Sacroiliac joint fusion is typically considered as a treatment option when individuals experience chronic and debilitating pain or dysfunction in the SI joint. Here are some common situations when sacroiliac joint fusion may be necessary:

  • Chronic sacroiliac joint pain - a persistent, severe pain in the lower back, hips, or buttocks, especially one that radiates into the legs. If this pain is diagnosed as originating from the sacroiliac joint, fusion may be considered.
  • Sacroiliitis - an inflammation of the sacroiliac joint often caused by conditions like ankylosing spondylitis or other forms of arthritis. 
  • Traumatic injury - injury to the SI joint, such as fractures or dislocations, can result in ongoing pain and instability. 
  • Ligamentous laxity - a condition where the ligaments that support the sacroiliac joint become overly flexible or damaged. This can lead to instability and pain, which may require fusion to stabilize the joint.

Before considering fusion, individuals typically undergo a course of conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, medications, and injections. If these treatments fail to provide sufficient relief, surgery may become a viable option.

What to expect before the surgery?

Before undergoing sacroiliac joint fusion surgery, there are several important preparations and expectations to keep in mind. 

First, you'll undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation, including a review of your medical history, physical examination, and possibly additional diagnostic tests like X-rays or MRI scans. 

Additionally, your surgeon and medical team will provide specific pre-operative instructions. These instructions may include details on fasting before surgery, discontinuing certain medications, and any other preparations to ensure you are in optimal condition for the procedure.

How is sacroiliac joint fusion performed?

Sacroiliac joint fusion is a surgical procedure designed to stabilize the sacroiliac joint and alleviate pain and dysfunction. It can be performed using different techniques, but here is a general overview of how sacroiliac joint fusion is typically done:

Anesthesia and positioning

Before the surgery begins, you will be placed under anesthesia. You will also be positioned on the operating table in a way that provides the surgeon access to the sacroiliac joint. This positioning may involve lying face down or on your side.

Sacroiliac joint fusion surgery

The surgeon will make a small incision near the sacroiliac joint. The size and location of the incision can vary, but minimally invasive techniques often use smaller incisions. He/she will then perform the following:

  • Carefully move muscles and tissues to access the sacroiliac joint. A special retractor may be used to keep the tissues out of the way during the procedure.
  • Prepare the sacroiliac joint for fusion by removing any damaged or arthritic cartilage from the joint surfaces to ensure a clean and stable fusion.
  • The surgeon will insert implants into the joint to achieve fusion. These implants may be screws, rods, plates, or other devices. 
  • A bone graft may be used to facilitate fusion. This graft material may come from your own body (autograft) or a donor (allograft). The graft material is placed between the sacrum and ilium to encourage bone growth and fusion.

After the implants and bone graft are in place, the surgeon will close the incision using sutures or staples. Sterile dressings are applied to the incision site to promote healing.

What to expect during the recovery stage and rehabilitation?

Recovery and rehabilitation after sacroiliac joint fusion surgery are crucial phases in your journey toward improved mobility and pain relief. Here's what you can generally expect during this period:

Pain management

You may experience some discomfort or pain at the surgical site. Your doctor will prescribe pain medications and provide instructions on their proper use.

Restricted activities

You'll be advised to avoid certain activities that strain or disrupt the healing process. This may include heavy lifting, bending at the waist, and high-impact activities. 

However, you'll be encouraged to start moving and walking as soon as possible after the surgery. Initially, you may need assistance, such as crutches or a walker, to support your mobility.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is a crucial component of your rehabilitation. You'll work with a physical therapist to perform exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the sacroiliac joint and promote joint stability. These exercises are tailored to your individual needs and progress as you heal.

Over time, you'll gradually increase your activity levels under the guidance of your healthcare team. This may include returning to light daily activities, such as driving and work, as you progress in your recovery.

Follow-up appointments

You'll have scheduled follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor your progress. During these visits, your surgeon will assess your healing, address any concerns, and make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

FAQ: Common questions about sacroiliac joint fusion

How long does the surgery take?

The surgery typically lasts a few hours, and you'll be closely monitored by the medical team throughout. Your surgeon will explain what to expect in detail before the operation.

What's the expected recovery time?

Initial recovery may take a few weeks, with full recovery in a few months.

Will I need to make lifestyle changes after the surgery?

In some cases, lifetime lifestyle adjustments may be necessary to help prevent the recurrence of sacroiliac joint dysfunction or to protect the fused joint. This includes the following:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Practicing good posture and body mechanics when lifting objects or performing daily tasks. 
  • Avoiding prolonged sitting and the use of ergonomic chairs.
  • Continuing physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises.

UNC Orthopedics Panther Creek - Your Trusted Partner in Excellence

At the Orthopaedic Surgery Center of Panther Creek, we are committed to your well-being and dedicated to providing the highest quality of care. As one of the leading surgery centers in the state, we prioritize your safety, education, and overall experience.

When you choose the Orthopaedic Surgery Center of Panther Creek, you're not just choosing a healthcare facility; you're choosing a partner in your journey towards improved health and mobility.

Contact us now to experience the best outpatient orthopedic clinic in the area.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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6715 McCrimmon Parkway
Suite 205 A 
Cary, NC 27519
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