Could my frequent chiropractor visits be making my SI joint problem worse?

Normally, I tend not to share work-in-progress type posts. I don’t like to take up everyone’s time talking about something I’m not sure about.

I’ve just been through SO much– filled so many notebooks with my scribbles, had so many “epiphanies” thinking I’d figured it all out– only to find out that so many of the things I discovered turned out not to be true.

Now I tend to hold off on making pronouncements– much less asking other people to read about them– until I know I’m not barking up the wrong tree.

But there was one very interesting issue that came out of my trip from San Francisco, and I have a feeling it might be relevant to other people, too.

I think my frequent chiropractic adjustments may have been making my sacroiliac joint problem worse.

Since I developed my SI joint issues in the fall of 2011, I’ve gone to the chiropractor, on average, once a week. (Let’s not even talk about how much money I’ve spent).

When my SI joints first locked up, my chiropractor, Dr. K., was the only one who could even explain to me what was happening. I saw several different physical therapists, as well as a back specialist, and none of them were able to offer any type of diagnosis.

Dr. K., meanwhile, told me it was my sacroiliac joint making me feel like one leg was much shorter than the other. And, more importantly, he was able to fix it (at least temporarily).

However, I always noticed that during the first few hours after an adjustment, I seemed to be extra prone to having a setback. I used to try to go for walks following my appointments, but I found that even though my pelvis was “aligned,” one misplaced foot on uneven ground could make me “lose” my adjustment and end up even worse off than if I hadn’t gone to the chiropractor at all.

So I stopped doing anything extra after my appointments. I would try to sit in the car and rest for 20 minutes before driving. Then I’d come home and move gingerly throughout the house, knowing I would be extra prone to setbacks for the next 3 or 4 hours.

I’ve been in this holding pattern with this problem for years. Things are a lot better than they were in 2011, that’s for sure. But my pelvis is still unstable; I still can’t do everything I want.

***

Before I left for San Francisco, I found an interesting comment on one of the SI joint Facebook groups I follow.

Someone wrote that her physical therapist had cautioned her against getting chiropractic adjustments for her SI joint. The reason given was that the force of the adjustments could actually cause the ligaments in the area to stretch out, while they need to “tighten” back up in order to heal.

Something about this idea resonated with me, but I was about to get on a plane in a few days, and I didn’t want to try anything new. So I put it out of my mind, and actually went to the chiropractor twice in the week before I left, hoping to get myself in as good as shape as possible. Both times, my body slid back out of alignment afterwards like butter, and I got on the plane frustrated and expecting to limp for the entire trip.

Yet, during my two and a half week trip,. I actually started to feel better.

At first I thought it was in my head. It’s a new city– I was excited. I was distracted. I had my friends with me all the time– I was happy.

But now I think a big part of it had to do with the fact that I went two and a half weeks without any chiropractic adjustments.

***

Two days days ago, I went to see my chiropractor. It was actually my neck that was really bothering me– my SI joints didn’t feel bad.

During my visit, Dr. K. confirmed that my pelvic alignment was actually pretty good. He only performed one small adjustment to the pelvis (the lumbosacral junction, to be exact) just to help move things along a little further in the right direction.

But on the drive home from that visit, I felt markedly worse. I had to drive through a lot of road construction, and felt every single bump painfully in my lower back/pelvis, whereas I hadn’t really noticed the bumps on the way there. At one point, the car “thunked” down several inches off of the smooth, finished pavement onto the rough, unfinished surface that came next. A pain started there that I still had when I got home, and when I got out of the car, I was limping.

That’s when it hit me. Maybe the adjustments are making things less stable. Why, after all, would I come home so much worse off than before I had gone?

To be clear, I wasn’t limping after the adjustment itself. When I walked back out to my car from the office, I felt like everything was fine (and my neck felt a heck of a lot better).

But the adjustment itself may have put too much stress on my ligaments (and other tissues as well?) meaning that the bumpy drive home immediately afterward turned out to be detrimental.

***

It’s been two days, and I’ve been playing it by ear, trying to see if things start to feel more stable. And, guess what, they are.

I’ve had this funny feeling all along, like something about this problem didn’t add up. After all, I’d met other people with SI joint problems and they’d recovered much more quickly than I had. Why was I the one who could barely move, who I felt as though I was addicted to chiropractic treatments just to keep things lined up?

What if part of the problem has been the chiropractic treatment itself? Is it possible the adjustments have been creating a vicious cycle where, although my joints are put into alignment, my overall stability and ability to maintain that alignment is undermined?

I don’t know for sure, but given how much better and more stable I am beginning to feel again, two days later… I think it’s pretty likely.

It’s a pretty frustrating realization to have, after all the time and money I have dedicated to this “project.” Yet it is funny to note how, again, that San Francisco trip I was terrified of ended up teaching me something I could never have come to realize otherwise.

For now, I am going to forego the chiropractic adjustments, at least on my low back and pelvis, and see how things go.

***

Now, to be clear… I am not suggesting anyone just leave their SI joints locked up. I know that feeling… it’s not good, and definitely does not feel like something that’s going to lead to healing.

However… it is possible to use muscle contractions to re-align your SI joints yourself, and once you know you are doing it right, I think it is probably much easier on your body than the chiropractic adjustments.

This is something a physical therapist can teach you to do (it’s called the muscle energy technique).

I don’t think I have room in this post to discuss it more here, but for anyone who’s interested in SI joint issues, I have also started an open “workbook” on SI joint issues. It’s not going to be a blog-blog like this one is.  All of my creative writing and personal stuff will be on this site– the SI joint workbook is just going to be a place where I store all of my notes on the research I’ve been doing.  You’re welcome to read through it and follow it if you’d like!


5 thoughts on “Could my frequent chiropractor visits be making my SI joint problem worse?

    1. That’s a great question– I’ve actually been wondering that myself. I’ve only really noticed it with my SI joints/pelvic alignment. In the past 6 weeks since I wrote this post, I’ve only gone to the chiropractor twice– way down from my previous average of once a week– and I’ve only had them adjust my upper-back and neck. I haven’t noticed these parts of my body feeling less stable, but then again– it took me FOUR years to notice it with my SI joints, so I can’t say for sure. It seems like a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees– you’re already caught in a cycle of pain, and everything seems to make you worse, so it’s hard to identify one thing at a time. Maybe one adjustment a month IS too much for my neck, and I just haven’t perceived it that way yet.

      I really think that every chiropractor, and every patient, are different. I’ve seen a total of five chiropractors since I first started having chronic pain in my 20’s, and I think there is a wide range of skill level and techniques used.

      I once saw a chiropractor who had a 5-star average rating on Yelp, based on over 30 reviews, and knew instantly that his adjustment had been too forceful, and actually left with my SI joint even more locked up than when I had gone in. Never saw him again.

      I actually do trust my current chiropractor to correctly “diagnose” what is going on– it’s just that even these adjustments, which very much feel helpful at the time and do not cause any pain, are throwing off my equilibrium in a way that makes things less stable. I think it’s just too much change for my body to process– my muscles, joints, and nervous system are used to holding things in a certain position, and when they are forced out of that position, they just can’t adapt quickly enough. I don’t feel that anything was being damaged or injured by the adjustments, per se (at least not by my good chiropractor)… it was more about the fact that whatever equilibrium I had going on was being too dramatically interrupted.

      I’m going to elaborate more on this in an update post, but thanks so much for asking this great question!

  1. Thank you for this blog on SIJ issues. Unfortunately I can relate to you. After I was involved in a car accident in Nov 2011 I have had SIJ problems, along with a myriad of other problems. After the accidents over the past few years, I went through the chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture and of course physical therapist. Today, I get cortisone injections from a pain management doctor on a regular basis (lower pain levels), and have a medical massage therapist work on me every other week (whole body).
    My SIJ injury is such a frustrating and debilitating injury! I’m currently laying on ice (due to increased pain and back spasms) while my husband is enjoying our vacation by visiting friends and my relatives.
    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s nice knowing I’m not alone. I also plan to look up SIJ FB groups.

    1. Hi Sondra, thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad my post resonated with you. Yes, SI joint injuries are so frustrating and confusing! I’m sorry to hear about what you are going through..

      I definitely recommend the group I mentioned in the post– https://www.facebook.com/groups/579529535420630/ I can’t say that *every* post is a gem, but I have found a lot of useful information there, and it’s made me feel a whole lot less alone.

      I wish you the best of luck on your healing journey! Feel free to stay in touch :)

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