Iliosacral Pain You Can't Touch

By David Kent , LMT, NCTMB

Iliosacral Pain You Can't Touch

By David Kent , LMT, NCTMB

As a practicing therapist, I know the anxiety one can feel to produce results during a therapy session. Throughout your career, clients will present you with iliosacral pain that is very sensitive to the touch. In some cases, they report no longer wearing tight-fitting pants or jeans because the pressure on their sacrum or coccyx produces too much pain. So how do you provide relief in this area if you can't touch it?

The information in this article can be easily applied and integrated into any therapy setting and with any application of treatment techniques. While iliosacral pain can have numerous origins, this article will focus on the trigger point patterns that exist along with practical tips to produce positive outcomes.


Pain is a symptom and we want to address the cause. Determine the contributing and/or perpetuating factors influencing your client's pain with intake forms, pain scales, accident questionnaires and headache diaries to help guide and support your physical assessment. Read "Tools to Succeed for Massage Therapists" (MT, May 2009).

Before a surgeon operates, a dentist drills or a chiropractor performs an adjustment, they review images from X-rays, CT scans or MRI and information from other tests. Then the healthcare provider designs a multi-session treatment plan to help their client achieve specific goals. Our clients also expect us to assess and provide a solution.

Standout from your competition by taking five minutes to quickly evaluate your client's gait pattern as they walk down the hall to the therapy room, perform a quick postural analysis (Read "Getting Comfortable With Postural Analysis" MT, July 2008), check range of motion (ROM), and perform orthopedic assessments.

I use the camera on my cell phone to take postural analysis photos and instantly zoom in on the images to review my findings with the client. I quickly review the different postural views and correlate/translate their posture photo to answer:

Which myofascial tissues are shortened and which are lengthened?

Which structures are under the greatest stress?

Review the trigger point patterns that could be involved.

"Connect the dots" as to how and why their posture, restricted ROM, trigger points and pain are related.

How to help with a multi-session treatment plan.

Just like other healthcare providers, you must proceed to explain the origin of your client's symptoms and a solution while referencing the tests (orthopedic, ROM) and postural analysis photos as supporting evidence.

Trigger Points

Before moving onto my palpation exam and treatment, I educate my client's about trigger points. I circle on a trigger point chart the pain referral patterns of the eight muscles involved with iliosacral pain based on the research of Drs. Travell and Simons, authors of Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

I explain the "X" in the trigger point images indicates the common location of each trigger point and the red indicates the common referral zones. Each trigger point produces a unique referral pattern and some are similar from one muscle to another. Being familiar with each pattern, will allow you to ask better questions and be precise with your evaluation and treatment. I will briefly review the common location of each trigger point and the associated referred pain pattern. This will reinforce and help you remember the information you should review with your clients.

The eight muscles with trigger points involved in iliosacral pain include:

Gluteus Medius: Two of the three trigger points found in the gluteus medius muscle refers over the iliosacral region. Trigger point 1 (TrP 1) is located lateral to the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS) and inferior to the iliac crest. It produces a referral that includes the posterior crest of the iluim, the region over sacroilac joint and half the sacrum on the ipsilateral side. (Fig. 1)

Trigger point 3 (TrP 3) is rare but when present is located just posterior to the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) and just below the iliac crest. Referred pain is primarily produced in the low back and over the sacrum bilaterally. Read "Back Pain: Often a Pain in the Gluteus Medius" (MT, March 2009).

Gluteus Maximus: Three trigger points in the gluteus maximus can be involved. (Fig. 2) TrP 1 is located just lateral to the sacrum and refers over the sacroiliac joint. Trigger point 2 (TrP 2) is very common and located slightly superior to the ischial tuber-osity. It refers over most of the gluteal region ending below the iliac crest. TrP 3 is located in the fibers close to the coccyx and refers pain over the coccyx.

Multifidi: Trigger points in the lower segments around S1 and S4 may refer to the coccyx, making it hypersensitive to pressure. (Fig. 3) This is often identified as coccydynia.

Quadratus Lumborum: The trigger points located more medially in the quadratus lumborum (Fig. 4, See #1 and #2) refer pain posteriorly to the sacroiliac joint and lower buttock. Symptoms include low back pain upon standing upright or walking. Pain in the quadratus lumborum may be exacerbated by coughing or sneezing.

Rectus Abdominis: Trigger points in the lowest portions of the rectus abdominis (Fig. 5, See # 2) can create referred pain bilaterally over the sacroiliac and lower lumbar regions.

Soleus: TrP 3 is a very rare trigger point and located in the lateral mid-calf that refers deep into the ipsilateral SI joint. Even more rare, this trigger point could create a pattern similar to TrP 1. A couple of times this very exceptional trigger point has been observed creating severe pain to the ipsilateral face. Trigger points in the soleus do not appear to be involved in leg cramps like the trigger points of the gastrocnemius; however, they have been associated with "growing pains". Trigger points in the soleus and gastrocnemius may contribute to chronic Achilles tendon tension. (Fig. 6)

Coccygeus and Levator ani: If you suspect trigger points in the coccygeus and/or levator ani muscles, address them with stretching, post-isometric relaxation techniques and corrective seated posture and refer them to a specialist. (Fig. 7)


Trigger points can be treated with an array of techniques found in the massage therapy profession from Swedish to Thai massage, myofascial release (MFR) to active isolated stretching (AIS), and the list goes on. The key is to know the anatomy and the common location of each trigger point and their associated pain referral patterns. It is impossible to memorize every trigger point pattern in the body, so it is practical and efficient to use trigger point charts. In the treatment rooms of my clinic, I hang wall charts. I use flip charts when wall space is limited to provide a professional image when doing outcalls, chair massage or when meeting with other healthcare providers to ask for referrals.

I wish you much success in life and in the treatment room.