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Sacroiliac Joint Pain Surfacing Post-Rhisotomy

Consider combing long, curly hair. Untangling the top layer is not so bad, but once half the hair is tamed, there is often a mangled mess lurking underneath. Sometimes the lumbar spine gets all the primping to relieve pain, but the sacroiliac joint is harboring the knots, such as when a lumbar rhizotomy leaves a patient’s satisfaction a little fuzzy.

A 2017 study by Rimmalapudi and Kumar investigated the incidence of sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction being diagnosed in patients after undergoing lumbar radiofrequency rhizotomy of the medial branches of lower lumbar dorsal rami for chronic facet-mediated low back pain. The authors used a retrospective chart review of 96 patients who had the procedure performed, and 50 subjects responded to the 2 follow ups and were included in the study. Their choice of control was a limitation in this study, as they compared the results to a different study (DePalma et al., 2011) with a similar population that did not have the lumbar rhizotomy performed. Of the 50 patients (66% female, 34% male), 35 (70%) were subsequently diagnosed with SI joint pain; whereas, in the comparison study, only 18% of the patients had SI pain. The assessment of SI dysfunction in this study was by clinical exam, and the DePalma et al. study used diagnostic tests. The authors concluded the following: clinicians should suspect underlying SI joint pain post-lumbar rhizotomy; careful evaluation of the SI joint should be performed pre and post procedure; and, diagnostic joint blocks should be performed to confirm SI dysfunction. They suggested using criteria of 80-100% relief as opposed to the currently accepted >50% after a diagnostic facet block because residual pain from an underlying condition may arise after lumbar rhizotomy.

Stelzer et al., (2017) published another retrospective study on lumbar neurotomy or SI joint lateral branch cooled radiofrequency (RF) neurotomy, looking at pain reduction and medication decrease, depending on BMI, gender, and sports. Facet-mediated pain is accountable for 31-45% of low back pain, and 18-30% is SI joint mediated. The study started with 160 patients who had undergone procedures, and Visual Analog Scale (VAS) pain scores, quality of life, BMI, medication use, and pain management satisfaction were assessed before, 1 month after (n=160), 6 months after (n=73), and 12 months (n=89) after treatment. Group 1 (n=43) had neurotomy of the medial branch of L4-5 and L5-S1 facet joint, medial branch L3 and L4, and dorsal ramus L5. Group 2 (n=109) received cooled RF treatment of the SIJ, SIJ lateral branch of the posterior rami S1–S3, and rami dorsalis of L5. Group 3 (n=8) had various areas treated according to their disease process. The authors determined from these treatments that a 95% probability of significant pain reduction could last 12 months; medication usage decreased; lower BMI had slightly better results than >30BMI; no significant difference between males and females; and, involvement in sports 1-3 times a week for 30 minutes showed improvement in quality of life.

These studies prove we need to evaluate our lumbar and sacroiliac joint patients as thoroughly as possible in order to avoid unnecessary procedures or at least to help direct the treatment to the appropriate area. We should always equip ourselves with knowledge of medical procedures our patients may undergo and expand our own clinical competence and skill. Patients benefit from what is inside our heads and how we use it, not how well-groomed our hair appears.


Rimmalapudi, V. K., & Kumar, S. (2017). Lumbar Radiofrequency Rhizotomy in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain Increases the Diagnosis of Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction in Subsequent Follow-Up Visits. Pain Research & Management, 2017, 4830142. http://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4830142
M. J. DePalma, J. M. Ketchum, and T. Saullo. (2011). What is the source of chronic low back pain and does age play a role? Pain Medicine. 12(2), 224–233.
Stelzer, W., Stelzer, V., Stelzer, D., Braune, M., & Duller, C. (2017). Influence of BMI, gender, and sports on pain decrease and medication usage after facet–medial branch neurotomy or SI joint lateral branch cooled RF-neurotomy in case of low back pain: original research in the Austrian population. Journal of Pain Research, 10, 183–190. http://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S121897

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