Pelvic Girdle Dysfunction Literature Review

Diagnostic Tools for the Sacroiliac Area and Pelvic Girdle Dysfunction[edit | edit source]

Diagnostic Injections to Evaluate Sacroiliac Joint Pain[edit | edit source]

An image-guided intra-articular blockade with a local anaesthetic is often used to confirm or exclude suspected sacroiliac joint (SIJ) involvement as this method is target-specific. There is however no true “gold standard” for SI joint mediated pain.[1] Borowsky and Fagen (2008)[2] reported an improved clinical outcome in patients with chronic sacroiliac region pain, through directing the corticosteroid dose not just intra-articular to the SIJ but also to the posterior interosseus ligament and S1-3 lateral branches.[2] This suggests that there are other extra-articular sources of sacroiliac region pain.[2]

Imaging[edit | edit source]

Limited evidence is available for the diagnostic accuracy of imaging modalities in diagnosing SIJ pain as a component of pelvic girdle pain.[3] Plain radiographs of the pelvis may be used to rule out any other obvious reasons for pain. The shape and orientation of the SIJ create difficulty in visualisation with conventional radiography. Other methods such as CT and MRI have an advantage as they are able to create multiplanar visualisation of the joint. CT scan was only 57% sensitive and 69% specific in the diagnosis of SIJ pain.[4] MRI is useful to detect early inflammation and soft tissue pathology of the SIJ in patients with spondyloarthropathy.[3]

Kim et al (2018)[5] conducted a systematic review on the accuracy of diagnostic imaging and reported moderate diagnostic accuracy of CT, myelography and MRI.[5] Read the complete article here: Diagnostic accuracy of diagnostic imaging for lumbar disc herniation in adults with low back pain or sciatica is unknown; a systematic review[5]

Special tests[edit | edit source]

Static and Dynamic Special Tests[edit | edit source]

In the field of manual therapy, it is common to conduct palpation and motion testing of a joint as part of the examination and this is also commonly done in the assessment of the SIJ and the pelvic girdle. However, these types of static and dynamic palpation tests in the assessment of SIJ disorders have been determined to be unreliable and invalid in the literature.[6][7][8][9] Furthermore, these tests lack diagnostic value as approximately 20% of asymptomatic participants were found to have positive findings.[10] Some of these tests include[11]:

  • Standing flexion test
    • With the patient standing, SIJ movement is assessed while the patient bends forward
  • Seated flexion test
    • With the patient sitting, SIJ movement is assessed while the patient bends forward
  • Gillet test
    • With the patient standing, SIJ movement is assessed while the patient pulls the opposite knee to the chest
  • Heel-bank test
    • With the patient in sitting SIJ movement is assessed while the patient places one foot on the treatment table
  • Abduction test
    • With the patient in side-lying, a discrepancy in load transfer is assessed
  • Thumb PSIS test
    • With the patient in sitting, the position of the PSIS is measured on a horizontal line in relation to each other
  • Click-clack test
    • With the patient in sitting, movement of the left and right PSIS is assessed when the patient moves the trunk from lordosis to kyphosis

The plausibility of these tests used to diagnose movement dysfunction of the SIJ is clearly challenged in the available literature.[12] Criticisms on these tests include various issues such as:

  • Relying on clinicians to manually detect SIJ movement through multiple layers of tissue[13]
  • The movements of the SIJ are so minute that external detection by manual methods are not possible[14]

Recent literature also reiterates the fact that although clinicians commonly use these tests to identify movement dysfunctions in the SIJ, the weight of evidence has not changed in the last couple of years and the use of these tests and models of movement dysfunction remains unsupported.[12][15][16]


Self-administered Tests[edit | edit source]

Olsen et al[18] evaluated the use of self-administered tests for pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy and concluded that these self-administered tests and questionnaires are possible to use for the testing and classification of women with suspected pelvic girdle pain. This may help to provide the basis for early intervention.

The self-administered tests are[18][19]:

  • Pain provocation - self-administered
  • Neural test
    • Self-administered modified SLR test in long sit

The complete article with images and descriptions of these tests can be found here: Evaluation of self-administered tests for pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy

Testing Clusters Evidence[edit | edit source]

It is evident that individual SIJ tests have issues such as poor inter-rater reliability and that a single test is not reliable enough to be used in the diagnosis of SIJ pain or dysfunction. A more acceptable method is to make use of a cluster of tests (combining the results of a number of tests).[8][20][21][22][23] Arab et al (2009)[24] reported a fair to substantial inter-tester reliability for the cluster of tests with the reliability the highest for the cluster with two positive tests out of four SIJ mobility tests.[24] Other studies have also addressed the issue of poor reliability by assessing clusters or groups of tests with some success. Although clustering individual unreliable tests, may improve reliability, it still lacks face validity.[25]

In a systematic review by Goode, 2008[15] the authors concluded that movement testing should not be used to diagnose SIJ pain or dysfunction and suggested that clusters of pain provocation tests are the best way to diagnose SIJ pain to date.[15]

Pain Provocation Tests[edit | edit source]

The key SIJ pain provocation tests are distraction, compression, thigh thrust, Gaenslen's test and the sacral thrust.[26] The Faber test has also been validated but is as much a test of hip pain and function as it is a test of the SIJ.[26] The algorithm proposed by Laslett also indicates that centralisation via the McKenzie approach should be ruled out first and by doing this the sensitivity of the cluster of tests will improve from 78 % to 87 %.[26]

Three or more of the pain provocation tests need to be positive to be an indication of an SIJ problem.

Laslett (2005)[21] proposed that an effective way of identifying the SIJ as the source of pain is using a battery of pain provocation tests. The Cluster of Laslett include[26]:

  • Distraction Test
    • The patient lies supine. The examiner applies a vertically orientated, posteriorly directed force to both the anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS). The anterior sacroiliac ligaments are stressed with this test and this test has the highest positive predictive value (0.6; 95% CI = 0.36 – 0.8). Test sensitivity is 0.6 (036 -0.8) and specificity is 0.81 (0.65 -0.91).[21]
  • Thigh Thrust Test (P4)
    • The patient lies supine with the affected side hip flexed to 90°. The examiner stabilises the pelvis at the opposite ASIS with his/her hand, while providing steady increasing pressure through the axis of the femur. The posterior tissues of the SIJ are stressed with this test. This test has high inter-rater reliability (Kappa = 0.94, 0.64 -0.082 p <0.001). Test sensitivity is (0.36 -.88) and specificity is (0.50 -0.69) in moderate to high-quality studies.[21][27]
  • Compression Test
    • The patient is in a side-lying position, with the affected side up, facing away from the examiner, pillow between the knees. The examiner places a steady downward pressure through the anterior aspect of the lateral ilium, between the greater trochanter and the iliac crest. The test stresses the posterior SIJ ligament. This test has been found to be not reliable (Kappa = 0.63)[9]
  • Sacral Thrust Test
    • The patient lies prone. The examiner applies a vertically directed force to the midline of the sacrum at the apex of the curve of the sacrum, directed anteriorly. This produces a posterior shearing force at the SIJ.[26]

The following two tests were also formerly in the Laslett Cluster: [21]

  • Gaenslen’s Manoeuvre
    • The patient lies supine with the affected side leg near the edge of the table while the patient’s shoulders are positioned towards the middle of the table. The patient draws the non-affected side leg into full flexion and holds flexed knee, while the examiner holds the leg with a hand placed over the patient’s hand. This action keeps the ilium on the non-tested side in a slightly posterior and stable position. The test can indicate the presence or absence of SIJ pain, pubic symphysis instability, hip pathology or an L4 nerve root lesion.[28]
  • FABER (Patrick’s) Test
    • The patient lies supine, the examiner crosses the patient’s affected side's foot over the opposite-side thigh. The pelvis is stabilised at opposite ASIS. A gentle downward force is applied to the affected side knee and is steadily increased, exaggerating the motion of hip flexion, abduction and external rotation. This test is usually used to identify hip pathology, but it is useful in identifying SIJ pain when clustered with other tests. This test has high intra-rater reliability. Sensitivity is 0.69-0.77 and specificity 0.16-1.0 (Kappa = 0.83).[27]

Sacroiliac Distraction Test video provided by Clinically Relevant

Sacroiliac Compression Test video provided by Clinically Relevant

Thigh Thrust Test video provided by Clinically Relevant

Gaenslen's Test (Right Leg) video provided by Clinically Relevant

Gaenslen's Test (Left Leg) video provided by Clinically Relevant

SacralThrust Test video provided by Clinically Relevant

Interventions for Pelvic Girdle Dysfunction and Sacroiliac Pain[edit | edit source]

Manual Therapy[edit | edit source]

Manual therapy techniques reported in the literature are often aimed at treating the immobility of the SIJ.[29] Clinical opinion on the effectiveness of manual therapy also varies greatly. Few trials investigating this exist and those that are available are either uncontrolled or poorly controlled.[30][31] Manual therapy has been shown to alter muscle tone and EMG activity in muscles related to SIJ stabilisation (hamstrings, quadriceps and abdominal muscles).[32][33] Clinton et al (2017)[34] concluded that the evidence on manual therapy techniques for the treatment of PBLP and PGP is still emerging and could be considered as there is little to no reported evidence of adverse effects in the healthy antepartum population, but these recommendations are based on weak evidence.[34]

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Exercise is recommended in the antepartum population with pelvic girdle pain. Both the ACOG and Canadian CPG’s recommends exercise for health benefits and there are low risk and minimal adverse effects for the antepartum population.[34] Vleeming et al (2012)[35] showed that many muscles contribute to optimal force closure of the SIJ. It is postulated that asymmetry or altered neuromuscular function of any of the muscles contributing to force closure may influence force closure and load transfer.[35]

Many exercise interventions are designed to improve the stability around the pelvic girdle by strengthening the muscles to produce stronger force closure. The evidence for this is conflicting. Stuge et al (2004)[36], compared the efficacy of specific lumbopelvic stabilisation exercises with individualised physiotherapy treatment without the use of stabilisation exercises. The specific stabilisation exercises provided a reduction in pain, pain-related disability and improved quality of life, whereas the compared group showed little change. Gutke et al (2010)[37] showed little effect in the implementation of specifically designed pelvic stabilisation programs.[37] Mens et al (2000)[38] also reported little benefit of specific exercises designed to strengthen diagonal trunk muscle systems thought to be active in force closure.[38]

However, Pennick and Young[39] conducted a Cochrane review and concluded that strengthening exercises and sitting pelvic tilt exercises lead to a reduction in pain and back-pain related sick leave.[39] A recent systematic review of the effectiveness of exercise programs on lumbopelvic pain among postnatal women suggests the possible reasons for poor outcome results may be poor compliance and potential discomfort experienced in some exercise programs.[40]

Pelvic support belts[edit | edit source]

Pelvic compression belts or sacroiliac belts have been used in the rehabilitation of pelvic pain in various populations such as athletes and peripartum women.[30] The mechanism of how these belts influence pelvic stability remains unclear.[30] Wearing a pelvic compression belt has been shown to reduce SIJ laxity and improve and improve neuromuscular performance in the stabilising muscles of the pelvis.[32] Arumugam et al (2012)[41] reported moderate evidence for external pelvic compression influencing lumbopelvic kinematic motion, pain, SIJ laxity and neuromuscular control.[41]

Clinton et al[34] recommend that clinicians should consider the use of a pelvic support belt in the antepartum population with PGP. However, the recommendation is based on conflicting evidence as the studies reviewed reported on differences in patient populations, interventions, control groups, duration of application of the belts and follow-up intervals.[34]

Outcome Measures[edit | edit source]

Clinton et al (2017)[34] published clinical practice guidelines for pelvic girdle pain in the antepartum population. In these guidelines, the relevance of patient-reported outcomes is discussed. The use of patient-reported outcome measures is practical to determine baseline disability, function and pain relief as well as change throughout the clinical course of treatment. Clinton et al (2017) recommend that these outcome measures should be used in combination with clinical examination to help with clinical decision making.[34]

Some of the outcome measures recommended are[34]:

The complete clinical guidelines can be found here: Pelvic Girdle Pain in the Antepartum Population: Physical Therapy Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health From the Section on Women's Health and the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association

Wuytack and O’Donovan (2019)[42] more recently conducted a systematic review of outcomes and outcome measures used in intervention studies of pelvic girdle pain and lumbopelvic pain. A total of 107 studies were included in the review and 46 outcomes were reported across all studies. Pain was the most reported outcome. Studies used different instruments to measure the same outcomes, particularly for outcomes of pain, function, disability and quality of life.[42]

Read the complete systematic review here: Outcomes and outcomes measurements used in intervention studies of pelvic girdle pain and lumbopelvic pain: a systematic review[42]

Food for Thought[edit | edit source]

Patient education is vital and clinicians need to play a key role in this.[12] Health care providers communication and choice of words can negatively affect the patient. Words such as “out of alignment” or “unstable pelvis” can be disempowering. It is recommended to empower patients by giving them tools to address their pain.[19]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jung MW, Schellhas K, Johnson B. Use of Diagnostic Injections to Evaluate Sacroiliac Joint Pain. International Journal of Spine Surgery. 2020 Feb 1;14(s1):S30-4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Borowsky CD, Fagen G. Sources of sacroiliac region pain: insights gained from a study comparing standard intra-articular injection with a technique combining intra-and peri-articular injection. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 2008 Nov 1;89(11):2048-56.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thawrani DP, Agabegi SS, Asghar F. Diagnosing sacroiliac joint pain. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2019 Feb 1;27(3):85-93.
  4. Elgafy H, Semaan HB, Ebraheim NA, Coombs RJ. Computed tomography findings in patients with sacroiliac pain. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (1976-2007). 2001 Jan 1;382:112-8.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kim JH, van Rijn RM, van Tulder MW, Koes BW, de Boer MR, Ginai AZ, Ostelo RW, van der Windt DA, Verhagen AP. Diagnostic accuracy of diagnostic imaging for lumbar disc herniation in adults with low back pain or sciatica is unknown; a systematic review. Chiropractic & manual therapies. 2018 Dec 1;26(1):37.
  6. Cibulka MT, Koldehoff R. Clinical usefulness of a cluster of sacroiliac joint tests in patients with and without low back pain. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1999 Feb;29(2):83-92.
  7. Potter NA, Rothstein JM. Intertester reliability for selected clinical tests of the sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy. 1985 Nov 1;65(11):1671-5.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Riddle DL, Freburger JK, North American Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Research Network. Evaluation of the presence of sacroiliac joint region dysfunction using a combination of tests: a multicenter intertester reliability study. Physical Therapy. 2002 Aug 1;82(8):772-81.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Van der Wurff P, Hagmeijer RH, Meyne W. Clinical tests of the sacroiliac joint: A systematic methodological review. Part 1: Reliability. Manual therapy. 2000 Feb 1;5(1):30-6.
  10. Dreyfuss P, Dryer S, Griffin J, Hoffman J, Walsh N. Positive sacroiliac screening tests in asymptomatic adults. Spine. 1994 May;19(10):1138-43.
  11. POTTER NA, ROTHSTEIN JM. Intertester Reliability for Selected Clinical Tests of the Sacroiliac Joint. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2006 Apr 1;30(1):21-5.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Palsson TS, Gibson W, Darlow B, Bunzli S, Lehman G, Rabey M, Moloney N, Vaegter HB, Bagg MK, Travers M. Changing the narrative in diagnosis and management of pain in the sacroiliac joint area. Physical Therapy. 2019 Nov 25;99(11):1511-9.
  13. McGrath MC. Palpation of the sacroiliac joint: An anatomical and sensory challenge. International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2006 Sep 1;9(3):103-7.
  14. Sturesson B, Uden A, Vleeming A. A radiostereometric analysis of movements of the sacroiliac joints during the standing hip flexion test. Spine. 2000 Feb 1;25(3):364-8.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Goode A, Hegedus EJ, Sizer P, Brismee JM, Linberg A, Cook CE. Three-dimensional movements of the sacroiliac joint: a systematic review of the literature and assessment of clinical utility. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. 2008 Jan 1;16(1):25-38.
  16. Klerx SP, Pool JJ, Coppieters MW, Mollema EJ, Pool-Goudzwaard AL. Clinimetric properties of sacroiliac joint mobility tests: A systematic review. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2019 Nov 9:102090.
  17. E3 Rehab. Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction (Changing the Narrative). Available from (last accessed 28 December 2020)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Olsén MF, Elden H, Gutke A. Evaluation of self-administered tests for pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2014 Dec 1;15(1):138.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Riczo, D. Pelvic Girdle Dysfunction Literature Review. Physioplus Course. 2021
  20. Cibulka MT, Delitto A, Koldehoff RM. Changes in innominate tilt after manipulation of the sacroiliac joint in patients with low back pain: an experimental study. Physical therapy. 1988 Sep 1;68(9):1359-63.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Laslett M, Aprill CN, McDonald B, Young SB. Diagnosis of sacroiliac joint pain: validity of individual provocation tests and composites of tests. Manual therapy. 2005 Aug 1;10(3):207-18.
  22. Levangie PK. Four clinical tests of sacroiliac joint dysfunction: the association of test results with innominate torsion among patients with and without low back pain. Physical Therapy. 1999 Nov 1;79(11):1043-57.
  23. Robinson HS, Brox JI, Robinson R, Bjelland E, Solem S, Telje T. The reliability of selected motion-and pain provocation tests for the sacroiliac joint. Manual therapy. 2007 Feb 1;12(1):72-9.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Arab AM, Abdollahi I, Joghataei MT, Golafshani Z, Kazemnejad A. Inter-and intra-examiner reliability of single and composites of selected motion palpation and pain provocation tests for sacroiliac joint. Manual Therapy. 2009 Apr 1;14(2):213-21.
  25. Laslett M. Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment of the painful sacroiliac joint. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. 2008 Jun 1;16(3):142-52.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 Laslett M. Clinical Diagnosis of Sacroiliac Joint Pain. Techniques in Orthopaedics. 2019 Jun 1;34(2):76-86.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Stuber KJ. Specificity, sensitivity, and predictive values of clinical tests of the sacroiliac joint: a systematic review of the literature. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 2007 Mar;51(1):30.
  28. Albert H, Godskesen M, Westergaard J. Evaluation of clinical tests used in classification procedures in pregnancy-related pelvic joint pain. European Spine Journal. 2000 Apr 1;9(2):161-6.
  29. Cibulka MT. Understanding sacroiliac joint movement as a guide to the management of a patient with unilateral low back pain. Manual Therapy. 2002 Nov 1;7(4):215-21.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Booth J, Morris S. The sacroiliac joint–Victim or culprit. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology. 2019 Feb 1;33(1):88-101.
  31. Kamali F, Zamanlou M, Ghanbari A, Alipour A, Bervis S. Comparison of manipulation and stabilization exercises in patients with sacroiliac joint dysfunction patients: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2019 Jan 1;23(1):177-82.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Sole G, Milosavljevic S, Sullivan SJ, Nicholson H. Running-related hamstring injuries: a neuromuscular approach. Physical Therapy Reviews. 2008 Apr 1;13(2):102-10.
  33. Sole G, Milosavljevic S, Nicholson H, Sullivan SJ. Altered muscle activation following hamstring injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012 Feb 1;46(2):118-23.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 34.5 34.6 34.7 Clinton SC, Newell A, Downey PA, Ferreira K. Pelvic girdle pain in the antepartum population: physical therapy clinical practice guidelines linked to the international classification of functioning, disability, and health from the section on women's health and the orthopaedic section of the American Physical Therapy Association. Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy. 2017 May 1;41(2):102-25.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Vleeming A, Schuenke MD, Masi AT, Carreiro JE, Danneels L, Willard FH. The sacroiliac joint: an overview of its anatomy, function and potential clinical implications. Journal of anatomy. 2012 Dec;221(6):537-67.
  36. Stuge B, Lærum E, Kirkesola G, Vøllestad N. The efficacy of a treatment program focusing on specific stabilizing exercises for pelvic girdle pain after pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Spine. 2004 Feb 15;29(4):351-9.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Gutke A, Kjellby-Wendt G, Öberg B. The inter-rater reliability of a standardised classification system for pregnancy-related lumbopelvic pain. Manual therapy. 2010 Feb 1;15(1):13-8.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Mens JM, Snijders CJ, Stam HJ. Diagonal trunk muscle exercises in peripartum pelvic pain: a randomized clinical trial. Physical Therapy. 2000 Dec 1;80(12):1164-73.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Pennick V, Liddle SD. Interventions for preventing and treating pelvic and back pain in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013(8).
  40. Tseng PC, Puthussery S, Pappas Y, Gau ML. A systematic review of randomised controlled trials on the effectiveness of exercise programs on Lumbo Pelvic Pain among postnatal women. BMC pregnancy and childbirth. 2015 Dec 1;15(1):316.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Arumugam A, Milosavljevic S, Woodley S, Sole G. Can application of a pelvic belt change injured hamstring muscle activity?. Medical hypotheses. 2012 Feb 1;78(2):277-82.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 Wuytack F, O’Donovan M. Outcomes and outcomes measurements used in intervention studies of pelvic girdle pain and lumbopelvic pain: a systematic review. Chiropractic & manual therapies. 2019 Dec 1;27(1):62.