Iliac Crest Pain: Causes and Home Remedies

Iliac Crest Pain - Causes and Home Remedies
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Iliac crest pain is a common cause of lower back pain – a problem that millions of adults have to deal with daily. The iliac crest is the top part of your hip bone and is connected by various nerves, tendons, and muscles. Any inflammation or damage to the ilium (the uppermost and largest part of the hip bone) or the muscles around the hip bone will result in iliac crest pain that can be very sharp and severe.

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Pain in the top of your ilium can cause more than just lower back pain. The pain can extend down your sciatic nerve, through your groin, into your spine, and make your hip sore. Thankfully, there are many helpful home remedies that give relief from iliac crest pain. However, apart from relieving iliac crest pain, you also need to know how to prevent lower back pain.

In the article, you will find out the many different causes of iliac crest pain and what you can do to get needed pain relief.

First of all, to know the exact cause of pain in your lower back, it’s important to know more about the iliac crest.

What is Iliac Crest?

Your hip bone is made up of three bones – the ilium, ischium, and pubis – with the ilium being the largest of the three. It is fairly easy to find out where the iliac crest is located. If you place your hands on your hips you have just found the location of the iliac crest on your hip bone.

According to an anatomy and physiology instructor, the ilium bone is one of the most important bones in the whole body. It divides your abdomen and your pelvis. Your iliac crest is also connected to important muscles in your body like the latissimus dorsi muscle (largest muscle in your back), your gluteus maximus muscle in your hip, and your main abdominal muscles.1

Symptoms of Iliac Crest Pain

Although pain in your lower back is one of the most common symptoms of iliac crest pain, you may have pain in other areas of your body. Because there are many muscles and nerves connected to the hip bone, pain can radiate down your leg, through your buttocks, and into your groin.

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Depending on the exact cause of iliac crest pain, you may experience anything from a dull ache in your buttock to sharp muscle spasms in your back. Or, you could feel shooting pains down your leg right to your foot. Some people also have inflammation of the joints in the hip bone that can cause discomfort and pain when walking.

Causes of Iliac Crest Pain

To find out how to relieve pain around the iliac crest and stop the pain spreading to other parts of your body, you need to determine its cause. Here are some of the main causes of iliac crest pain.

Weak muscles

Weak muscles in your abdomen and lower back can cause pain around your hip bone. Strong core muscles are needed to support proper joint movement and keep them flexible.

The University of Iowa reports that muscles help to control our joints and hip movement. Weak muscles are a common reason for back pain and being overweight can put extra strain on these muscles.2 Dr. Michael Smith on WebMD recommends strengthening core muscles to ease back pain.3

Trauma to the iliac crest bone

Trauma to your iliac crest bone will cause pain and agony in your lower back region. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy reported that a fall or collision that injures the iliac crest will cause pain and tenderness along your lower back.4

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

Any damage or inflammation in your sacroiliac joint (SI joint) will cause pain and discomfort in your lower back, abdomen, or groin. The SI joint connects the ilium to your spine and carries the weight of your body when you move.

According to Dr. Andrew L. Sherman on WebMD, some reasons for SI joint dysfunction that causes pain are arthritis, aging, taking uneven strides, and regularly jogging or running.5

Symptoms of sacroiliac joint pain are lower back pain and leg pain. You can read more about the SI joint in my article about sacrum pain or sacroiliac joint pain: causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Apophyseal injury to ilium

An apophyseal injury is called apophysitis, and ilium apophysitis can cause back pain in young adults and children. Apophysitis describes a repetitive pulling of the muscle from a bone. These types of injuries are common among adolescents because their bones and muscles are growing.

A study from France reported that apophysitis of the iliac crest is a cause of low back pain in children and young adults. This happens because the tendons attached to the bone get stretched and inflamed causing pain.6

Symptoms of ilium apophysitis pain are dull aches in the front of the hip.

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Iliolumbar syndrome

Damage to the ligament that stretches from the iliac crest to the spine causes mild to extreme pain in your back and around your pelvis. According to the Western Journal of Medicine iliolumbar syndrome pain is aggravated by prolonged sitting and standing and twisting the pelvis.7 For example, regularly playing sports like golf or volleyball can cause iliolumbar syndrome that causes low back pain.

Piriformis syndrome

Piriformis syndrome describes a condition where the piriformis muscles in the buttock press on the sciatic nerve and cause pain. Dr. Melinda Ratini on WebMD says that the piriformis muscle stabilizes the hip joint and helps us walk properly and maintain balance.8

Any kind of inflammation, tightening, or spasms in the muscle can cause iliac crest pain as the piriformis muscle is located near the sacroiliac joint.9 You may also have a dull pain in your buttocks or when walking up stairs.

Gluteus medius pain

The gluteus medius muscle in your buttock is attached to your iliac crest and any strain or tear in the muscle will result in pain in your hip. According to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Howard Luks, most hip pain is connected to muscles attached to the hip bone (gluteus medius).10  

Bone cancer

In rare cases, iliac crest pain is due to cancer of the bone.11 However, the majority of cases of lower left back pain or lower right back pain are from damage to nerves, ligaments, and muscles surrounding the hip bone.

Natural Treatments for Iliac Crest Pain

If you are bothered by occasional or chronic iliac crest pain that affects your lower back, groin, or legs, here are some recommended natural treatments. These home remedies can help to reduce inflammation and improve joint movement.

R.I.C.E.

RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It is considered a standard first-aid treatment for sprains and muscle injuries. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy recommends RICE treatment for iliac crest pain.4

How to get pain relief:

Here are the R.I.C.E. principles for pain relief:

  • Rest. It’s important to rest from any activity that puts strain on your lower back and can aggravate tissue around the iliac crest on your hip bone.
  • Ice. A cold compress helps to reduce inflammatory responses and pain. This prevents increased blood flow to the damaged area that can make the initial inflammation worse. You should hold an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15 minutes 3 times or more times a day. When the swelling and inflammation has subsided (from 48 to 72 hours) use a heat pack.
  • Compression. Using a compression bandage to wrap an injured area will help to reduce swelling. However, this may not be possible for iliac crest pain.
  • Elevation. Keeping the injured area above your heart can help to reduce blood flow and take swelling down. In the case of iliac crest pain, lying on your back with your feet up can help.

The R.I.C.E. method can be helpful if your iliac crest pain is caused by trauma or injury. However, for chronic lower back pain, you should use the other pain-relief methods mentioned below.

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Warm compress

A warm compress can help reduce chronic back pain that is caused by inflammation of the muscles and ligaments around the iliac crest. Heat from the warm pad helps to increase blood flow to the painful area to speed up the healing process.

How to use it:

To use heat therapy for pain relief in your lower back, this is what you should do:

  • Take a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm damp towel and place on your painful back area.
  • Leave for 20 minutes and repeat 3-4 times a day to relieve tension and pain from your lower back.

Remember, you shouldn’t place the heat source directly on your skin but you should wrap the heat pad in a thin towel.

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your joints flexible and pain-free. Specific exercises can also help reduce pain associated with iliac crest pain. According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD, exercising can strengthen your lower back muscles and reduce back pain.11  

However, because there are many causes of iliac crest pain, you should seek the advice of a professional who can design a series of exercises specifically tailor-made for your back problem.

Turmeric

For chronic iliac crest pain, you can try turmeric for pain relief and to reduce joint inflammation. Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is great for relieving all kinds of joint pain naturally.

A review in 2016 into the therapeutic properties of turmeric found that it is a natural remedy for improving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It can help reduce joint swelling and prevent muscles stiffness.12

When taking turmeric to relieve joint and muscle pain, you should make sure that it’s combined with piperine (found in black pepper). This helps to boost how much of the turmeric extract the body can absorb.

How to use:

You can use turmeric in many different ways to help get rid of pain in the lower back and hip bone.

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Turmeric and ginger tea

Another way to consume more turmeric to help relieve chronic low back pain and reduce joint inflammation is to combine it with ginger to make a delicious tea.

To find out more about the anti-inflammatory power of ginger and turmeric, please read my article on the health benefits of drinking turmeric and ginger tea.

Essential oils for iliac crest pain relief

Many essential oils have great pain-relief properties because they are absorbed into the muscles and joints to relieve inflammation. Using a few drops of essential oil with a carrier oil can reduce chronic pain in the lower back, nerve pain, or sciatica.

Lavender is a wonderful herb that helps to soothe joint pain and calm the mind. Research into the pain-relieving properties of lavender has found that it is just as effective as some corticosteroid anti-inflammatories and analgesics.13

Chamomile also is known for its soothing effect and can help to take the pain out of low back inflammation. The benefit of chamomile essential oil for joint pain is that it is easily absorbed deep into the skin. A review into chamomile for pain relief found that it helps improve pain in the knee and lower back.14

Wintergreen is a lesser-known essential oil but it has powerful pain-relief properties. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that wintergreen was just as effective as aspirin for pain relief when massaged into the lower back.15

How to use:

To use essential oils for low back pain relief, you should mix 2-3 drops of essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil, such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or jojoba oil. Then 3-4 times a day, massage the soothing oil into your lower back and along the iliac crest.

For more information on how to use essential oils for their anti-inflammatory effect and reduce chronic pain, please read my article about the best essential oils to relieve pain and inflammation.

Preventing Iliac Crest Pain

Much of the pain coming from the crest of the ilium can be avoided by taking steps to strengthen your core muscles to prevent back pain. Most of these involve regular exercising and stretching to keep your abdomen and hip muscles strong and joints flexible.

The Arthritis Foundation reports that exercising may delay or even prevent hip surgery. It was reported that exercising increased joint and muscle flexibility and improved the ability to perform physical activities better. However, any exercise regime to reduce pain and improve joint movement should be done under the supervision of a professional person.16

If you regularly exercise, you should make sure that you have the appropriate footwear to prevent pressure on your lower back.

Another way to avoid iliac crest pain is by warming up and cooling down before and after any strenuous physical activity. This helps to prevent you from injuring or damaging your muscles, joints, and ligaments.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. InnerBody. Iliac crest.
  2. UIHC. Chronic back pain.
  3. WebMD. Relieve back pain with core strength training.
  4. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Dec; 7(6): 691–704.
  5. WebMD. Is your SI joint giving you back pain?
  6. Rev Chir Orthop Reparatrice Appar Mot. 1993;79(1):58-61.
  7. West J Med. 1982 Apr; 136(4): 372–374.
  8. WebMD. Piriformis syndrome.
  9. JAOA. Diagnosis and management of piriformis syndrome.
  10. HowardLuksMD. A common cause of hip pain.
  11. WebMD. Low back pain.
  12. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2016; 2016: 9130979.
  13. An Acad Bras Cienc. 2015 Aug;87(2 Suppl):1397-408
  14. Electron Physician. 2016 Sep; 8(9): 3024–3031.
  15. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Apr 1; 20(4): 219–220.
  16. Arthritis. Exercise may delay or prevent hip surgery.
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