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Sarah's Story

Sarah's Journey to SI Joint Pain Relief After a Fall

Back Story
SI Joint Trauma

A healthy 45-year-old tennis player, "Sarah," slips and falls on the concrete. Her subsequent pain leads her on a journey from conservative therapies to iFuse minimally invasive surgery. Sarah's story is based on an aggregate of several true patient stories with similar history and presentation.


Sarah's Health History

Sarah is a 45-year-old woman who developed SI joint dysfunction after a slip and fall injury. Prior the injury Sarah was quite physically active and had no prior problems with her back, pelvis, hips or legs. Sarah remained a recreational tennis player after playing at a varsity level in college, practicing and playing matches at least 3-4 days per week. She had never experienced a significant injury and had no major health issues. She had no history of prior pregnancies.

When Sarah's SI Joint Pain Began

Sarah slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk while walking her dog. She lost her balance and fell backward, landing on her left buttock. She landed on the bony prominence in her lower buttock called the ischial tuberosity. This is the bony prominence in the buttock (left and right) that is in contact with the chair when we sit.

After Sarah’s fall, she was able to get up and walk back home. She felt tenderness in the area on which she had landed, and some soreness in the left side of her lower back and buttock. She applied an ice pack to her left lower buttock for 20 minutes and fell asleep.

The next morning, Sarah had significant difficulty getting out of bed because of pain in her lower back and buttock as well as a new area of pain in the area between the left side of her upper tailbone (sacrum) and her pelvic bone (ilium). She was taken to an urgent care center by a friend. She noticed it was also painful in her left lower pelvic region when she stood on her left leg to put on her pants and socks.

Sarah Gets a Physical Exam After Her Injury

At the urgent care center, the physician asked her to point to the area of her worst pain and she pointed to the bony area in the left posterior buttock just below her spine. The physician stated this was called a positive “Fortin’s Test” and indicated that she was pointing to the area over her sacroiliac joint.

Sarah also pointed out other areas of pain in her left lower back from her ribs to her pelvis, her left buttock out toward her lateral hip, the back and side of her thigh to just above her knee and to her left groin. She also pointed to the tender bruised area in the lower buttock over the left ischial tuberosity.

The physician asked her to rate her pain at her SI joint and she gave it a 5 at the lowest and 10 at the highest (on a scale from 0=no pain to 10=worst pain ever felt). The pain was worse when she tried to change positions or put weight on her left leg such as when walking or climbing stairs.

She denied weakness, numbness or a lack of coordination in her legs. Her physician did a series of tests to assess nerve function in her legs. These tests included touching the skin to check sensation, testing her reflexes and testing the strength of certain muscles in her legs. The physician also did some tests where he was looking for signs of nerve tension indicative of nerve root compression. She did not have any positive findings.

Low Back X-Rays Come Back Negative

The physician ordered x-rays of her lower back and pelvis which included her SI joint. All of these tests were negative. He recommended she continue icing, use anti-inflammatory medication, and rest for short intervals when her pain was severe. He told her she could work at her job as a biochemist but advised to her to take breaks from prolonged sitting or standing.

Physical Therapy for SI Joint Pain

Her physician also recommended physical therapy. She made an appointment at her local clinic and went for an evaluation the next day. She noticed when she woke up the day of her appointment that her pain had increased in the left low back, buttock, and groin. When she moved to get out of bed she had sharp pain in the sacroiliac joint area rated as a 10 out of 10. She struggled to get dressed, shower, and get in and out of her car.

The physical therapist took her medical history and asked her questions about the fall. She relayed that she had to stand for long periods as a biochemist at work and enjoyed tennis. She shared that she was concerned she would not be able to perform her job and wondered if she would be able to return to tennis.

Individualized Physical Evaluation

The physical therapist performed an individualized physical evaluation. Sarah’s findings included postural deviations (changes), limitations in her trunk and lower extremity (leg) mobility on her left side, a loss of strength in her left gluteal (buttock) muscles, myofascial (muscle and connective tissue) pain in her left lower back, buttock and groin, changes in her gait (walking) pattern, three out of five positive provocative tests for SI joint pain, and bad postural habits at work which were contributing to her increasing muscle and joint pain.

An Orthopedic Surgeon Referral

After 3 physical therapy visits that addressed the findings above, Sarah felt that her SI joint pain was not improving and shared this with her physical therapist. The physical therapist referred her on to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in treating the lower back and SI joint. The orthopedic surgeon took her history and also performed provocative testing of the SI joint which revealed three out of five positive tests. He also reviewed her x-rays.

Pain Management with Medication and Therapeutic Injections

The surgeon recommended a stronger prescription anti-inflammatory and referred Sarah to a pain management specialist in his office for a therapeutic injection into her SI joint. The pain management physician performed the same tests and agreed with the recommendation for a therapeutic injection. The pain physician injected both a local anesthetic (Marcaine) and a long acting medicine (steroid) into her SI joint in his office.

Sarah's Conservative Therapy Results

Sarah had 85% pain relief for three weeks after the injection and returned to physical therapy twice a week for four weeks. She noticed that most of her muscular pain in the left lower back and buttock areas as well as her groin were improving. Her left SI joint pain remained the same.

She was not able to progress in her stabilization exercises, could not climb the stairs at work, and could not turn her torso with her tennis racquet in her hand without experiencing sharp pain in her left SI joint.

Home Exercise Program and Self-Pain-Management

Sarah was able to start using an SI belt, which did help the pain she experienced with her routine daily activities.

After four weeks she discontinued therapy as the physical therapist and she agreed that she had achieved as much as she could and was not improving. She did continue a home exercise program and self-managed techniques for pain relief.

She returned to her pain management physician for another therapeutic SI joint injection, which gave her 75% relief for 3 weeks. However, the pain in her left SI joint returned. She was able to get through her work day with use of an SI belt but was unable to go up and down stairs or return to tennis, which was her social and recreational outlet. She shared with the surgeon that she was getting depressed.

SI Joint Pain Relief: Taking the Next Step

Seven months after her initial injury, she returned to her orthopedic physician and asked if there were any additional treatment options for her left SI joint pain. He relayed that she could have an intervention called radiofrequency ablation or another steroid injection. She told the surgeon that she did not want a temporary solution. They then discussed the iFuse Implant System as an option to fuse her painful SI joint.

iFuse Implant System for Chronic SI Joint Pain

The surgeon explained that Sarah need a diagnostic injection with only an anesthetic (no steroid) and would need to record her pain level several times during the day after the injection. She made an appointment with the pain management physician.

He performed the injection under fluoroscopy (x-ray) to confirm that the material went into the joint. Her pain decreased from an 8/10 down to a 1/10 (on a 0-10 scale) for 6 hours after the injection. She was amazed that she was able to climb steps and could get in and out of bed, out of a chair and out of her car without using the SI belt with almost no pain.

Getting Insurance Approval for iFuse Surgery

She called her orthopedic surgeon and let him know that she wanted to proceed with the surgery. The orthopedists office had to submit her notes twice before her insurance would allow the surgery due to a few missing pieces of information. SI-BONE helped her gain access to the technology by providing information, at her request, to the insurance company. Her surgery was scheduled for the following week.

Preparing for iFuse Surgery

During her pre-operative visit, she was given a hand out with activity guidelines for after the surgery. This handout explained how to move correctly and how to perform exercises to prevent blood clots and to maintain muscle strength and motion.

After iFuse SI Joint Surgery

After her iFuse procedure to fuse her SI joint, she followed the handout's guidelines. She used ice over the surgical area for pain relief and to minimize swelling. She avoided heavy lifting and deep squatting. Her surgeon recommended that she use a cane and only put 50% of her weight on her left leg.

Her physical therapist instructed her in how to correctly use the cane before she left the outpatient surgery center. An appointment was made for her to follow up with her physician 2 weeks later.

One week after her surgery she was tempted not to use her cane because her left SI joint pain was gone but she remembered her physical therapist telling her it was important to use the cane until her walking pattern back was back to normal.

She returned to her physician two weeks after surgery. He told her she was healing well and that she could discontinue using the cane and should increase her walking as tolerated. He referred her back to her physical therapist for a re-evaluation and additional strengthening to begin four weeks after her surgery.

Physical Therapist Evaluation Four Weeks After iFuse Surgery

The physical therapist performed a full re-evaluation and found that she still had some areas that needed attention. Sarah had issues with her posture, trunk and lower extremity (leg) range of motion, core strength and her gait (walking pattern).

Sarah's complaints of SI joint pain and the positive tests for SI joint pain had resolved. She also had some residual soft tissue tightness and tenderness in he left quadratus lumborum (lower back muscles) and the deep posterior hip muscles including the piriformis.

Post-Surgery Physical Therapy Plan

The therapist prepared a treatment plan to address these findings and also provided instruction in postural alignment, positioning and body mechanics. Soft tissue mobilization was performed on the painful muscles in the left lower back and left posterior hip and the tenderness resolved.

They worked on Sarah’s walking pattern (gait) to eliminate some problems that she had developed as an attempt to unload her SI joint during walking. Sarah also received instruction on core muscle strengthening including contraction of her abdominal and her pelvic floor musculature during exercise. She eventually incorporated these techniques into her tennis swing and was able to return to playing recreationally.

The Results of Sarah's iFuse Surgery

Sarah followed up with her surgeon after one month of therapy (two months after surgery). She reported to the surgeon that she had returned to normal daily activities without pain and that she was even able to play tennis for short periods.

At her 6 month surgical follow up, Sarah reported she was back to competitive tennis and due to all of the advanced core strengthening she had done in physical therapy, her serve and forehand were now much stronger.

Remember, there are potential risks associated with any surgery, including the iFuse Implant System. It may not be appropriate for all patients and not all patients may benefit.

The iFuse Implant System is intended for sacroiliac fusion for conditions including sacroiliac joint dysfunction that is a direct result of sacroiliac joint disruption and degenerative sacroiliitis. This includes conditions whose symptoms began during pregnancy or in the peripartum period and have persisted postpartum for more than 6 months. There are potential risks associated with the iFuse Implant System. It may not be appropriate for all patients and all patients may not benefit. For information about the risks, visit: www.si-bone.com/risks

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