The sacrum is a large, wedge shaped bone that sits at the base of our spine. It forms a strong foundation for the vertebrae above and is central to the structural bearing of our entire body.
As the diagram on the right shows, the sacrum sits between the pelvic bones at the base of the spinal column. It’s made up of five fused vertebral segments (S1-S5).
The sacroiliac (SI) joints connect the sacrum to the pelvis. Supported by powerful ligaments, the SI joints also act as stabilizers and shock absorbers.
The sacrum only has a small amount of independent movement due to being fused. All of its major movement happens in conjunction with the surrounding structures:
- the lumbar spine above
- the pelvic bones and hip joints adjacent
- the tailbone below
The sacrum is home to large, branching network of nerves called the sacral plexus, which innervate the pelvis, buttocks, genitals, bladder, thighs, calves and feet. Because it impacts such a large part of the body, injury or illness in the sacral plexus can have painful and sometimes serious consequences.
You can find your sacrum by palpating the dimples at the top of your buttocks on either side of your lower back. These dimples are directly above your SI joints and your sacrum sits in between.
Women usually have more sacral issues than men due to structural and hormonal differences. To help facilitate birth, women’s hips are wider and hormones keep the sacral ligaments more lax. Wider hips increase torque on the SI joints when walking, and greater ligament flexibility can expose the joints to more strain.
For both sexes, sacral problems usually occur when the sacrum or lumbar area is too tight or too mobile. Sports injuries, arthritis, pregnancy and poor posture habits such as prolonged sitting, leg crossing or sleeping face down are common culprits. If left unchecked the pain can affect the way we move and lead to further bio-mechanical issues down the line.
There are several different conditions that can cause pain in or around the sacrum. Some common issues are:
- sciatica – caused by inflammation of the sciatic nerve, part of the sacral plexus nerve bundle
- sacroiliac joint dysfunction – occurs when one side of the sacrum is pulled out of joint from the ilium (pelvic bone)
- arthritis and osteoporosis – both can cause pain in the sacrum and surrounding region
Whatever type of pain you may be suffering from it is always best to to have a medical professional diagnose it. Find out the origin of the pain and how it may have manifested so you can be more specific with your treatment options.
Simple yoga poses practiced with mindful alignment can improve the health of the entire sacral region. They help by:
- promoting healthy posture and movement patterns
- aligning and stabilizing the sacrum and sacroiliac joints
- helping to relieve sciatic and sacroiliac joint pain
Symmetrical poses that bring the sacrum into a neutral position are especially helpful for healing sacral pain. They should stretch as well as strengthen the surrounding muscles and joints to encourage healthy movement patterns in the region. Salabasana (right) is a great example of a pose that builds sacral tone and balance, though some sacral issues prefer the release of correctly practiced forward bends.
Asymmetrical poses, especially twists and forward bends, can torque the sacral ligaments by pulling the sacrum away from the pelvis. Probably the best thing you can do for your sacrum is learn how to keep the pelvis and the sacrum moving together with the rest of the spine, so there is no pull or separation at the SI joints.
Sacrum spiritual anatomy
In yogic spiritual anatomy the sacrum is the home of the kundalini, a serpent like energy that sits coiled at the base of the spine. Kundalini energy is the individuated form of shakti, the divine life force.
The sacrum is also the location of the svadhisthana chakra, one of the seven major energy centers in the body. The svadisthana chakra is associated with emotions, creativity and sexuality. It’s governed by the element of water and characterized by flow, movement and flexibility. Hip opening poses practiced for sacral health also help activate the sacral chakra.
For more yoga articles, updates, classes and workshops, sign up for my newsletter at the top of the page or like on Facebook at Ann West :: Iyengar Yoga. You can contact me directly by email or call (858) 224-2484.
© 2016 by Ann West. All rights reserved.