Recently, The Manual Therapist wrote a blog post about what is most important when treating a patient: the what, the why, and the how. To relate it more directly, what you have refers to specific diagnoses. Why you have it refers to the theory of why the pathology occurred, i.e. movement impairment syndromes. The how refers to how we actually treat and assess. Much of medicine and physical therapy is often stuck in the "what" phase. We tend to assign diagnoses to tissue pathology and often look to treat what we believe is the source of the pain, not the original cause. Many physical therapists are moving towards the "why" mindset where we look at a more complete chain of the body to determine why our patients are in pain. This typically leads to a more well-rounded treatment approach. The "how" comes back to what we are actually doing and how we are treating our patients. I recommend reading the original post by Dr. E to get further clarification.
This post comes with good timing in the wake of Tiger Woods' "sacrum" comments. In case you missed it, Tiger Woods recently played in a golf tournament and had to withdraw, because he claimed his "sacrum went out." As a result, there was a backlash from much of the young PT community claiming how it was a horrible diagnosis, Woods' physical therapist had poor communication skills, etc. The discussion lead to many physical therapists and physical therapy students ranting about how the research for SIJ Dysfunction as a diagnosis is poorly supported based on higher level evidence (which is correct) and some even saying how the SIJ doesn't move at all. Based on these comments, it would appear many do not assess or treat the Sacroiliac Joint. While I may agree that we shouldn't worry about actual tissue diagnoses, I get frustrated by people's reluctance regarding any potential SIJ treatment given my personal clinical success. In the residency at Scottsdale Healthcare, we were taught various assessment and treatment techniques for the SIJ, but the distraction manipulation could be used as a "shotgun" approach and treat typically any form of SIJ dysfunction. In my limited experience, in the patients I feel would benefit from the manipulation, they tend to be 100% within just a few visits. Now a manipulation by itself is never the answer alone, but it can be an extremely useful tool. We need to build on preventing future recurrences of pain and teach our patients to maintain improvement independently. Some patient's arrive at clinic in excruciating pain and are nearly pain-free after manual treatment. A manipulation and mobilization are not the only potential treatment for what some would diagnose "SIJ Dysfunction." Repeated motions towards the directional preference may be appropriate as well. Basically, many of treatment techniques like these have theories to support them, but the evidence is not always as established. That doesn't mean successful treatment techniques should be discounted.
I again recognize our limited ability (and importance) of truly diagnosing what we think we see with the SIJ, but I must continue to stress the impact of when we assess, treat, and reassess. This is the importance of the how I discussed at the beginning. If the patient feels better immediately after a treatment technique, something I did had the desired effect! We currently are unable to be certain in knowing the exact mechanism our techniques have, but we should not ignore positive results. I have written extensively in the past about the problems with the studies regarding manual therapy, especially the SIJ, but that is not important in the end. What is important is that we find effective ways in getting our patients better as soon as possible. If that means doing a manipulation or mobilization where we think we are targeting the SIJ, then so be it. Do not let the limitations in higher level research prevent you from providing your patients with the most effective care.