Injury to the sacroiliac joint in the dog and cat commonly occurs in association with fractures of the pelvis and pelvic limb.
Substantial soft tissue injury and neurologic dysfunction may also be present. A patient with a sacroiliac fracture/luxation has in all probability sustained a significant external blow to the pelvis, and because of the probability of multiple fractures and soft tissue injuries, a thorough physical and neurologic examination must be performed.
The sacroiliac joint is a combined synovial and cartilaginous joint which functions as a supportive bridge between the appendicular and axial skeletons. Because the pelvis and sacrum form a rigid rectangular or boxlike unit, unilateral displacement of the sacroiliac joint cannot occur without associated pelvic fractures or a pelvic symphyseal separation. Unilateral separation of the sacroiliac joint occurring in conjunction with other severe orthopedic injuries is much more common than bilateral sacroiliac joint injury. Few unilateral sacroiliac injuries are associated with ischial and/or pelvic fractures alone.
Clinical signs exhibited by the patient obviously depend on the severity of the trauma as well as the extent of the associated injuries. Caudal abdominal herniation, urethral laceration, intestinal perforation, urinary bladder rupture, diaphragmatic hernias, and pulmonary contusions have all been associated with fractures of the pelvis. It is imperative that associated soft tissue injuries be diagnosed, as they affect treatment and prognosis. The patient may be ambulatory or nonambulatory, depending on the nature of the associated orthopedic and/or neurologic injuries.
In fracture/luxation of the sacroiliac joint in dogs and cats, treatment is either conservative or surgical. Current recommendations indicate conservative treatment in subluxations or in complete luxations when the patient is ambulatory and exhibits minimal discomfort. Before a course on conservative therapy is chosen, a neurologic examination should indicate that there are no functional deficits of the lumbosacral trunk and/or sciatic nerve. Complications of conservative management include increased cranial or medial displacement of the hemipelvis and obstruction of the pelvic outlet. Conservative treatment may also prolong the period of instability and lameness and prolong the period of patient discomfort and client concern. In addition, if marked displacement is present, asymmetry of the acetabulae may result in an abnormal gait posttrauma.
Open reduction and internal fixation is indicated for fracture/luxations when one or more of the following clinical or radiographic signs are present: 1) marked instability and displacement of the hemipelvis, 2) neurologic deficits attributable to the luxation or 3) obstruction of the pelvic outlet is observed. Surgical intervention is of particular value when associated orthopedic injuries are present, as surgical stabilization allows the patient to become ambulatory earlier and provides a better prognosis for the return to a normal gait.
In light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of sacroiliac fracture/luxations are associated with additional orthopedic injuries, my personal preference is to opt for early surgical repair. Even in cases of unilateral fracture/luxations with minimal associated orthopedic injuries, in my experience surgical intervention returns these animals to a normal gait more quickly and with a shorter convalescent period than if conservative therapy was chosen.
Sacroiliac fracture/luxations may be surgically repaired by either a dorsolateral or ventrolateral approach. The approach chosen may be dictated by the presence of additional pelvic injuries requiring open reduction and internal fixation, or surgeon preference. Both approaches provide adequate exposure for visualization of the sacroiliac joint.
Stabilization of sacroiliac fracture/luxations is most commonly accomplished with lag screw fixation. The two most important variables in the technique of lag screw fixation affecting sacroiliac stability are screw location and depth of screw placement. Screws placed within the sacral body have the lowest rate of loosened fixation compared to other areas of the sacrum. Proper positioning within the sacral body is also essential to prevent injury to the nerve roots within the spinal canal, and the lumbosacral trunk or sciatic nerve ventral to the sacral body. With regard to depth of screw placement, a cumulative screw depth/sacral width of 60% or more significantly reduces the likelihood of loosening of the fixation. While some authors have suggested that 2 screws be used routinely for sacroiliac stabilization, in all feline and most canine sacrums there is room for only one properly placed screw within the sacral body. In the giant breeds of dogs, a second screw or an intramedullary pin may be placed, but the placement of this additional screw or pin within the sacral body is dependent upon the accuracy of placement of the first screw. In addition, a recent study did not demonstrate a difference in the number of loosened fixations when one or two screws were used.
When a sacroiliac fracture/luxation occurs, most if not all of the fibrocartilage remains attached to the lateral surface of the sacral wing. When placing lag screws for fixation, the location of the sacral body must be determined by palpation as well as by the anatomical landmarks of the sacral wing. Screw placement should always be just caudal to the sacral wing notch.
Postoperative care should include restriction of exercise for a period of 6-8 weeks. A mild laxative may be administered if bowel movements appear to be painful during the immediate postoperative healing period. A significant number of sacroiliac fracture/luxations repaired with lag screw fixation may loosen and result in loss of reduction and sacroiliac instability. The guidelines for the location of screw placement mentioned here should improve the results of fixation and allow for a better prognosis for return to a normal gait and conformation.