The back pain many surgeons won't find

S-I joint the source of up to 25 percent of lower back pain

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - It's estimated that as many as 85 percent of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives, and doctors say back pain ranks second behind upper respiratory infections for office visits.

Emily Filuta knows the pain all too well. A dancer her whole life, she was nearly disabled when her pain became too much.

"I really can't pin point a time when there was a particular injury but it became disabling, I was in pain 24 hours a day," she said.

She went to doctor after doctor, their diagnosis: bursitis. She would just have to deal with the pain.

"He just kind of dismissed it and that was it, he pretty much just told me to live with it," Filuta said.

Not willing to settle for that answer, she kept searching for a cure.

"I'm a pretty persistent person," Filuta said. "There's probably a lot of people out there that are suffering like I was. Luckily I happened to find the right person."

That person is Dr Donald Sachs. The neurosurgeon practicing in Winter Haven performed a quick exam on her and felt confident the problem was in her sacroiliac joint.

Also referred to as the S-I joint, it's at the base of the spine and rests between the hips.

Damage to this joint may affect up to 25 percent of those with lower back pain.

Sachs said the joint can simply wear over time or be damaged through traumatic injury. He said may times the pain may not develop for years after an injury such as a fall. 

Symptoms often include lower back pain, pain below the belt line, pain while sitting, thigh pain and groin pain.

"I see people who are shriveled and sweating in pain, who are devastated by this pain, that don't get diagnosed," Sachs said.

Sachs said surgeons often focus their attention on the spine when diagnosing back pain. He said until recently many weren't taught the importance of the SI  joint in school.

"A few years ago less than 1 percent of spine surgeons recognized it, understood it or felt they understood it and had a handle on how to diagnose it," he said.

Once diagnosed, surgeons use minimally invasive surgery to insert pins into the joint. The pins hold the joint together, limiting movement and allowing it to eventually fuse together.

"People, they're active again," he said. "It really is like a breath of fresh air."

Filuta is a believer, after having the surgery she's back on the dance floor again and pain free.

"I like getting the word out," she said. "I went to several doctors and it's very commonly misunderstood problem. There's probably a lot of people suffering like I was. Luckily I happened to run into the right person."

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