When sacroiliac (SI) joint pain hits, you may be tempted not to exercise. However, some specific SI joint pain exercises can offer relief while helping you stay fit.
Not all sacroiliac injuries can be treated without surgery or steroid injections. Nonetheless, sacroiliac workouts may help relieve sacroiliac joint discomfort, restore joint function and mobility, and even prevent sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
Here, we explore the best sacroiliac joint pain exercises, stretches, and a complementary treatment that can help reduce the pain that prevents you from exercising: red light therapy.
Bu just a few words of caution before we begin. Don’t start an exercise program without professional medical advice. Also, we don’t recommend that you discontinue any treatment that has been prescribed by your doctor.
What Is the Sacroiliac Joint?
Located where the two dimples are in the low back/upper buttocks, SI joints absorb impact and provide support and stability to the upper body.
Sacroiliac joint pain starts in the SI joint and can radiate to the lower hip, upper thigh, or groin. Typically, people have sacroiliac joint problems on one side, but pain can occur on both sides.
Pain may worsen with certain activities, especially transitional movements like going from sitting to standing.
Risks of Sacroiliac Joint Problems
When the SI joint ligaments become too loose or too tight, or the cartilage wears down from overuse, poor biomechanics, autoimmune diseases, pregnancy/childbirth, obesity, or injury, it can present as mild to severe pain that can flare up randomly or be persistent.
Untreated, sacroiliac joint dysfunction can snowball into worse biomechanics, more pain, and loss of mobility.
Sacroiliitis, or pain in the sacroiliac joint, is caused by injury or damage to the ligaments or cartilage in one or both SI joints.
Sacroiliitis associated with the inflammatory disease known as ankylosing spondylitis (also called Bechterew's disease) can progress and eventually cause the vertebrae in the spine to fuse together and stiffen, severely reducing mobility.
Presently, there are no cures for sacroiliitis. Treatment options center around symptom relief, including avoiding triggering activities, analgesic/steroid injections, medication, ice or heat, physical therapy, supports, or braces.
But don't let sacroiliac joint pain win. Physical activity is one of the keys to maintaining the quality of life, minimizing pain, and maximizing mobility, as well as building and maintaining strength, endurance, and flexibility.
SI Joint Pain Pre-Exercise Warm-up
Always warm up slowly (no jumping jacks or running in place to warm up). Starting a workout with cold muscles often leads to injury because poor muscle flexibility leads to poor biomechanics.
Warming up dilates blood vessels and raises muscle temperature and lets you check your pain levels and set exercise limits.
Start Slow, Finish Strong
An effective pre-exercise warm-up involves 10 minutes of red light therapy (more details about this treatment later in the article) and a brisk 10-minute walk followed by gentle stretching.
A 2016 study confirmed that red light before exercise helps pre-condition the muscles, increasing their oxygen uptake and boosting cellular energy production for peak physical performance.
Another study focused on elderly patients with knee osteoarthritis and similar pain and disability levels. After twice-daily treatments for 10 days, the treatment groups reported more than 50 percent improvement in pain scores, as well as functional improvement and longer intervals between subsequent treatments than the control group.
Daily red light treatments before a workout can prime your body for exercise, relieve pain, and support better SI joint functioning.
Sacroiliac Joint Pain Exercises
The following are effective sacroiliac joint pain-relieving exercises.
Glute Exercises for SI Joint Pain Relief
You will feel a burn in your glutes with these exercises.
Side Steps with a Resistance Band:
- Place a resistance band around the mid-calf.
- Walk sideways while keeping tension on the band.
- Keep your toes pointed forward and a slight bend in your knees. Maintain good posture.
- Do 20 steps in one direction, and then reverse direction, leading with the other leg
Standing Hip Abduction with a Resistance Band
This exercise is similar to side steps, except you remain in place.
- Place a resistance band around the mid-calf area.
- Holding onto a wall for support, lift one leg to the side, keeping your toes pointed forward and the ankle flexed.
- Maintain a good posture and do not lean. Hold, and return to your normal standing position. Repeat 10 times before switching legs.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, with your feet and hands flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips while squeezing your glutes and engaging your core. At the top of the motion, you should be able to draw a straight line from your kneecaps to your upper chest.
- Lower slowly to the floor. Repeat 20 times.
Many people have muscle strength imbalances because they prioritize strengthening muscles they can see: the quads, abdominal muscles, biceps, and chest. Strengthening the lower spine and upper leg area will help reduce stress on the sacroiliac joint and may correct and prevent poor biomechanics that can lead to joint pain.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands behind your head, opening your elbows wide.
- Keep your knees slightly bent and hinge forward at the hip, lowering your torso until your chest is parallel to the floor. Keep your back flat, and maintain tension in the hamstrings.
- Rise up, driving through the heels while engaging your hamstrings and glutes. This is one rep. – aim for 20 of them.
Dumbbell Donkey Kicks with Ankle Weights
- Start on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart, wearing ankle weights.
- Keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle, lift the leg up as high as you can toward the ceiling while avoiding arching your back.
- Lower back to kneeling in a controlled manner. Do 10 reps before switching sides.
Hip Adductor Exercises
To prevent muscle imbalance, work on opposing muscle groups. Hip/glute exercises work the outer hip area. Counter this with an adductor squeeze: Sitting or lying, place a ball between your inner thigh muscles and squeeze as hard as you can for the count of 10. Relax, and repeat 10 times.
Swimming and Water Workouts
Swimming and low-impact water workouts, including water aerobics, can relieve SI pain. Walking in waist-high or chest-high water will provide resistance and gentle support.
However, not all swimming strokes are suitable. The butterfly stroke requires advanced core strength, and the dynamic arching motion of the back could aggravate low back pain.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that keeps your joints lubricated. Wear supportive shoes that ensure proper lower body alignment. Aim for a loose, slow, flowing gait (avoid power-walking or speed-walking) and a tall, “regal” posture.
Cycling is a low-impact exercise that strengthens the lower body.
First, get a proper bike fit whether you're cycling indoors or outside. Most people ride with their saddles too low. Cycling is a repetitive-motion sport that can lead to overuse injury due to poor biomechanics. A professional bike fitter will put you in the best position for comfort, power, and injury prevention.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice. This moving meditation features a constant flow of gentle movements that can loosen painful SI joints. Your doctor may recommend avoiding or modifying certain movements. Work with an instructor to learn the basics, and then practice at home.
Stretches for SI Joint Pain
Most people have flexibility imbalances on one side of the body (both in the lower and upper body) that can contribute to pain in your sacroiliac joints.
When doing a sacroiliac joint stretch, gradually balance your flexibility by holding the stretches on the side of the body that feels the most motion-restricted. It is important to not always just focus on the painful side of the body.
Tips for safe stretching
- Never stretch cold muscles (always warm up first).
- Stretch a muscle slowly to avoid tearing muscle fibers. Do not bounce. Gently stretch as far as you can without pain; hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply. If you feel a release, go deeper into the stretch in tiny increments.
- Never stretch to the point of pain.
Effective SI stretches include:
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend at the waist. Gently lean forward as far as you can, and hold.
Hold onto a wall for support. Grasp your ankle and pull one leg up behind your body. Hold, then repeat on the other side.
Single knee to chest stretch
Lie on your back; pull one knee as close as possible to your chest while keeping the other leg straight and touching the floor. Hold, then repeat with the other side.
Hip adductor stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs out to the sides. Hinge forward at the hips, lowering and lengthening your torso forward.
Double knee to chest
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee to your chest. Then, reach down and bring your other knee up to your chest. Hold, then lower your legs one at a time.
Lower trunk rotation
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and shoulders, hips, and feet flat. Slowly lower both knees to one side of the body. Hold, then slowly rotate to the other side.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and shoulders, hips, and feet flat on the floor. Place the right ankle on the left thigh. Grasp your knee and ankle, gently pull the leg toward the left shoulder and hold. Switch legs and repeat.
Exercise ball stretch
Hanging backward over an exercise ball releases tension in the lower back by stretching the front of the body. Sit on a large exercise ball and slowly walk forward until your buttocks are just barely on the ball; then stretch back over the ball with your arms behind your head; walk backward a few steps so you're fully supported on the ball, and relax.
An SI Joint Reset
While standing, cross the painful-side leg in front of the other. Standing cross-legged (painful leg in front) helps SI pain sufferers through events that require standing.
Yoga Stretches for SI Joint Pain
Yoga is an ancient blend of mental and physical training that builds core strength and balances muscle strength and flexibility.
Yoga poses to stretch and strengthen muscles on opposite parts of the body simultaneously relieve muscle tension imbalances that contribute to SI discomfort.
Body alignment is critical. Take a yoga class to learn the fundamentals before doing yoga at home.
Lie on your stomach, toes pointing straight back, hands underneath the shoulders, elbows close to the body. Tighten your legs and glutes and pull your upper torso up and forward while pushing down with your arms. Hold, then lower.
Lie on your stomach, arms by your side, your forehead on the mat and your legs straight back. Tighten your leg muscles and lift your head, chest, arms, and legs off the floor as you lengthen your back and broaden your chest. Hold, then relax.
Lie on your belly. Bend your knees and grab the outer ankles with your hands. Flex your feet. Lift your chest, shoulders, and head while pushing your ankles backward against your hands. Keep your head lifted, looking forward. Hold. Gently, still holding your ankles, lower back to the floor.
Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, with the right foot pointed toward the right and the left foot pointing ahead. Extend both arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Slowly bend to the side so your right hand touches your shin, your ankle, or the floor. Hold, and return to the starting position. Next, point your right foot forward and your left foot out, and repeat the pose to the left.
Start on your hands and knees with your spine flat and hands directly beneath your shoulders. Inhale and arch your back up (cat). Hold, then exhale as you round your spine downward (cow).
Bird dog pose
This challenging pose develops balance, strength, and flexibility in both the lower and upper body. Start on your hands and knees with your face toward the floor and spine straight. Lift your right leg and left arm parallel to the floor and hold for five seconds without rotating your pelvis or shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg and right arm.
Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart. Gently lower your torso between your knees. Either extend your arms forward with your palms on the floor, or relax your arms along the side of your torso.
Next, let’s explore red light therapy as more than just a warm-up technique. This natural, non-invasive remedy can help you restore mobility and reduce sacroiliac pain.
Red Light Therapy for SI Joint Pain
Red light therapy uses specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light to stimulate cellular metabolism, reduce inflammation, increase circulation, support joint pain relief, regulate nerve function, and increase collagen production.
Light has been used as a treatment modality for thousands of years. Today, we know that certain wavelengths have specific effects on the body. Hundreds of studies demonstrate the benefits of red and NIR wavelengths with no side effects.
For SI joint pain, red light therapy involves exposing your lower back to an LED red light therapy device that bathes the area in therapeutic wavelengths. You can do yoga or stretch during the at-home treatment.
You may experience fast relief from sacroiliac joint pain, but the best results come over time since the treatment works at the cellular level. No other treatment options take this approach.
There’s a wealth of information about red light therapy on the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights Learning Center, including how red light works and how it:
- Treats low back pain
- Primes muscles for exercise;
- Treats osteoarthritis
- Treats neuropathy
- Aids with weight loss
- And much more, since red light therapy has head-to-toe applications.
You will get the best results with red light therapy for SI joint pain relief by using these panels, which deliver the most potent combination of red and near-infrared wavelengths and the most power in their class.
Get Back Into the Swing of Things
These SI joint dysfunction exercises and stretches—along with red light therapy—could help you regain mobility and enjoyment of life without having to resort to invasive injections or surgery.
The SaunaMAX Pro is now available, a light panel for use in your home sauna.
Check out the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights Learning Center to explore ways to enhance your health using red light … and learn more about the power and therapeutic benefits of using red light therapy panels.