Sacro-iliac Strain

The sacro-iliac joint is essentially made up of ventral and an inner ligaments which anchor the ventral aspect of the ilium onto the wing of the sacrum. However there is support for this pelvic-spinal junction with the broad sacro-tuberal ligament and the local musculature such as the psoas (ventrally) and gluteal, longissimus and deeper spinal muscles (dorsally). Sacro-iliac strains occur in the ventral ligaments which produces inflammation locally, these strains can be unilateral or bilateral. The ventral ligaments are commonly injured when the horse is exercised on uneven terrain or heavy footing when the hind foot gets stuck or twists when hitting the ground.


Strain of this joint is quit common in horses and it is often misdiagnosed as generalised back pain which is only an associated symptom of the sacro-iliac strain. On palpation of the lumbo-sacral region which covers the sacro-iliac joint, there is an intense muscle hypertonicity and guarding, accompanying this is associated hamstring head and quadriceps muscle hypertonicity. The horse will dip down to pressure when applied along the sacral and lumbo-sacral region, there is also little to no movement or extension of the dorsal spine which would usually occur when pressure is applied down onto the sacrum. Because of the site of injury being at the junction of the hind limbs to the spine, actions such as jumping out of the barriers, standing starts and jumping over obstacles cause an intense pain, usually the horse is slow away from the barriers and slowly builds up momentum in races.


Treatment of sacro-iliac strains varies according to the severity and chronicity of the strain. In acute cases there is usually a quick response in relaxing the associated sacro-iliac muscles with the use of acupuncture can be achieved, this is followed up with anti-inflammatorys and slow exercise for a few days. Chronic cases occur when the horse has strained the ventral sacro-iliac ligament and the horse has continually been raced with the injury are less responsive than the acute treatments. The increased inflammation and weakening of the ligament as well as hypertrophy of the associated saco-iliac muscles are all issues that complicate a quick recovery. The local injection of corticosteroids into the site of the ligament has a strong pain relieving effect and gets to the cause of the hypertonicity.


Rest and the use of acupuncture can help restore proper blood supply and reset muscle spindles, this helps resolve the hypertonicity of the region getting flexibility back through the spine and pelvis which is so important for power and propulsion.


Acupuncture can also:


  • Raise circulating levels of cortisol.
  • Reduce pain.
  • Pinpoint the secondary stress from the sacro-iliac strain such as the stifles and hind fetlocks and resolve meridian chi stagnation and trigger point formation associated with the affected joints.

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