It has been reported that in 13-32% of patients with chronic low back pain, the pain may originate in the sacroiliac (SI) joints. When treatment of these patients with analgesics and physiotherapy has failed, a surgical solution may be discussed. Results of such surgery are often based on small series, retrospective analyses or studies using a minimal invasive technique, frequently sponsored by manufacturers.
To report the clinical outcome concerning pain, function and quality of life following anterior arthrodesis in patients presumed to have SI joint pain using validated questionnaires pre- and post-operatively. An additional aim was to describe the symptoms of the patients included and the preoperative investigations performed.
Material and methods
Over a 6 year period we treated 55 patients, all women, with a mean age of 45 years (range 28-65) and a mean pelvic pain duration of 9.1 years (range 2-30). The pain started in connection with minor trauma in seven patients, pregnancy in 20 and unspecified in 28. All patients had undergone long periods of treatment including physiotherapy, manipulation, needling, pelvic belt, massage and chiropractic without success, and 15 had been operated for various spinal diagnoses without improvement. The patients underwent thorough neurological investigation, plain X-ray and MRI of the spine and plain X-ray of the pelvis. They were investigated by seven clinical tests aimed at indicating pain from the SI joints. In addition, all patients underwent a percutaneous mechanical provocation test and extra-articular local anaesthetic blocks against the posterior part of the SI joints. Before surgery all patients answered the generic Short-Form-36 (SF-36) questionnaire, the disease specific Balanced Inventory for Spinal Disorders (BIS) questionnaire and rated their level of pelvic and leg pain (VAS, 0-100). At follow-up at a mean of 2 years 49 patients completed the same questionnaires (89%).
At follow-up 26 patients reported a lower level of pelvic pain than before surgery, 16 the same level and six a higher level. Applying Svensson’s method RPpelvic pain = 0.3976, with 95% CI (0.2211, 0.5740) revealed a statistically significant systematic improvement in pelvic pain. At follow-up 28 patients reported a higher quality of life and 26 reported sleeping better than pre-operatively. In most patients the character of the pelvic pain was dull and aching, often accompanied by a stabbing component in connection with sudden movements. Referred pain down the leg/s even to the feet and toes was noted by half of the patients and 29 experienced frequency of micturition.
It is apparent that in some patients the SI joints may cause long-term pain that can be treated by arthrodesis. We speculate that continued pain despite a healed arthrodesis may be due to persistent pain from adjacent ligaments. The next step should be a prospective randomized study comparing posterior fusion and ligament resection with non-surgical treatment.
Anterior arthrodesis can apparently relieve pain in some patients with presumed SI joint pain. The problem is how to identify these patients within the low back pain group.
Ethical issues: All patients were thoroughly informed about the study and gave their informed consent. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board.
Conflicts of interest: The authors have no conflict of interest.
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