Recovering from Surgery SACROILIAC JOINT FUSION

Follow Your SI Joint Fusion Recovery Plan

After sacroiliac joint fusion surgery, your medical team will design a recovery plan specific to your needs. Keep your doctors informed, follow their instructions, and contact them with questions. Give your body time to heal to maximize the chance of a good outcome and reduce recovery time. 


What to Expect After SI Joint Fusion Surgery

Recovering from surgery takes time. How fast you recover depends on the type of surgery, your work with a physical therapist, and ability to move and exercise, as recommended by your surgeon. 

Recovery From SI Joint Fusion Surgery

Dr. Carter Beck says most people who have surgery for the Rialto SI fusion system walk out of the hospital and are sore, but functional, from day one. Usually symptoms last from 6 weeks to 3 months. Dr. Beck is a neurological surgeon at Montana Neurosurgical Specialists in Missoula, Montana.
More information (see more)Less information (see less)

In most cases, immediately after surgery your medical team will continue to monitor your heart and lung function. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control pain and nausea.

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor or nurse may:

  • Show you how to care for the incision
  • Require you to wear a back brace
  • Describe ways to slowly increase your activity
  • Discuss what activities to avoid and for how long, such as repetitive bending, lifting, twisting, and athletic activities
  • Advise you to avoid vibrations, such as those you might experience when driving a car, for a period of time
  • Schedule office visits to monitor your recovery

Recovering From SI Joint Fusion Surgery

Dr. David Rouben talks about toe-touch weight-bearing which unloads stress across that joint and promotes healing. Dr. Rouben is an orthopedic surgeon at Norton Spine Specialists in Louisville, Kentucky.
More information (see more)Less information (see less)


Physical Therapy

Your surgeon may refer you to a physical therapist who will teach you exercises to improve your strength and increase your mobility. The goal of physical therapy is to help you become active as soon as possible, using safe body movements that protect your spine and your sacroiliac joint. This often includes abdominal-strengthening exercises. The therapist may also teach you different ways of standing, sitting, or lifting to avoid reinjuring your spine.

BENEFITS OF PHYSICAL THERAPY AFTER SI JOINT FUSION SURGERY

One of the biggest mistakes that patients make following SI joint fusion, or any (orthopedic) surgery for that matter, is assuming that the “problem” is fixed immediately post-procedure. From a physical therapist perspective, this is not the case for several reasons. 

Physical Therapist Scott Rusin stands on a black mat inside a physical therapy room

Physical Therapist Scott Rusin


First of all, the SI joint and the majority of other joints in the body rely heavily on muscular balance and support to function at optimal level. The wheel on your car is a good example. If the wheel is not balanced properly or your alignment is off, you’ll get less life out of your tires. Joint pain is felt sooner in joints that are not properly balanced, just like the wheel on your car. 

The human body is incredibly resilient and can tolerate years of abuse before presenting itself as pain. The physical therapist's job is to identify the imbalance and correct the problem before it turns into irreversible damage where surgery is required. If the SI joint dysfunction cannot be corrected with conservative methods, surgery becomes an option. 

If surgery is elected, the SI joint is stabilized (fused) and the patient may notice immediate pain reduction, although the muscular dysfunction remains. For example, if the SI joint dysfunction was a result of muscle shortening in the front of the hip or poor glute strength, it will now be exaggerated by the bed rest and decreased activity levels following surgery, which will cause further weakening or muscle shortening. This is where the physical therapist needs to step in to assess the mobility and stability of the area, design a treatment plan, and help you get the most life out of your new tires!

Scott Rusin is a licensed physical therapist, certified strength & conditioning specialist and has been practicing in the field of physical therapy since 2006. Scott has helped numerous patients rehabilitate after undergoing SI Joint Fusion surgery.


Warning Signs

Contact your doctor immediately if:

  • You get a fever
  • The incision site starts leaking blood (red streaks) or pus (a thick yellowish or greenish liquid)
  • You have trouble swallowing or breathing
  • You have trouble urinating
  • You have new or increased back or leg pain or numbness

Be Good to Yourself

Recovering from SI joint fusion surgery is an ongoing process. Recovery time is unique to each patient. The best way to recover? Be kind to yourself and follow your medical team’s instructions.