The end of my SI joint problems is officially in sight.

Update, Jan. 2018: Hi everyone– I’ve learned a ton since I wrote this post.  Be sure to check out my other site, My Sacroiliac Joint Saga

And now, the original post:

I’ve held off on writing this post until I was absolutely sure, but the time has come for me to make my official pronouncement.

In my post at the end of this past June, I explained how my SI joints were unexpectedly doing better following my 3 weeks in California. At first, I had thought it was something different about my routine, or being distracted by being around friends. However, once I got home and attempted to resume my regular chiropractic visits, I found myself feeling less stable. Maybe it wasn’t Boston, it wasn’t the East Coast weather, it wasn’t my routine… it was the chiropractor.

****

Now, let me back up. When I first developed my SI joint problem 5 years ago (God, has it really been that long?) my chiropractor was literally the only medical professional who could even begin to explain what was going on, much less free my leg when one side of my pelvis locked-up.

I saw several medical professionals, including two physiatrists and an orthopedist. I also saw a total of seven different physical therapists. No one could tell me with any clarity what was wrong.

I saw one misguided physical therapist who specialized in “manual therapy,” meaning she actually put her hands on my hips and lower back and tried to use pressure to re-align me. This resulted in absolutely no change.

The ONLY person who seemed to be able to help me at all was my chiropractor. I walked into his office with my pelvis completely locked up, feeling as though someone had tied a belt around my legs– that’s about how well I could move them– on the verge of tears. “Oh,” he said calmly. “It’s your sacroiliac joint.”

And with a few clicks of his “activator” tool, my legs and I were free.

****

I wanted to give you this backstory so that you can see how, at one point in time, I was so grateful for the help of my chiropractor. He truly helped me at a time when no one else was able to; when all anyone else gave me were strange looks and exercises I was unable to do– followed by more strange looks when I tried to explain that it’s not that I didn’t want to do the exercises, it’s not even that pain was stopping meit’s that I literally did not have control over my legs. When my hips were stuck, my legs were stuck.

My chiropractor was able to explain to me the anatomy of the joint, and how this mysterious pain on the sides of my lower back could actually be related to me being unable to move my legs. He made me feel that I wasn’t a freak– he told me that this problem was actually quite common– and on top of that– he could make the problem (temporarily) go away.

It’s also my chiropractor who convinced me to finally work out in a pool. Despite all of my hesitations, and insistence that I really just wanted to work out on land… he repeatedly did his best to convince me that this problem was probably going to be permanent unless I found a way to strengthen my muscles without putting more stress on the joint. The adjustments were only going to be a temporary fix, he explained, until I created more muscle strength to hold the joints in place.

He was right about that, too. I didn’t really start to get better at all until I finally joined a pool. Up until that point, my land exercises just seemed to make things worse. (The pool was turning point #1).

I got even better, still, when I truly began to follow a thorough stretching routine. For a while I didn’t know how to stretch because the simple act of getting down on the floor was enough to throw my SI joints out of whack. Undoing my entire chiropractic adjustment just for the sake of stretching seemed backwards; like undoing the foundation of the building in order to adjust something on the roof.

However, I eventually found this really awesome stretching table on Amazon, and honestly– it changed my life. Finally I was able to lie down and do all of my stretches in a way that didn’t impact my hips. So that was turning point #2.

That was my life for a few years: pool, stretching, chiropractor. My life revolved around this problem, because there didn’t seem to be much of an alternative. Once my hips locked up, all else ground to a halt. As I said before, when my hips were really locked, it was as though my whole body was in chains. It honestly felt as though someone had tied a belt around my upper thighs; it was sometimes really difficult to put one foot in front of another.

But it wasn’t a permanent disability either. It made no sense to just give up, accept that I couldn’t walk, and sit in a wheelchair. Because I could walk, when my hips were aligned. During those first few moments after I left the chiropractor, I felt totally perfect and free. It’s just that things never stayed that way.

So I did my best, doggedly. I was afraid to drive– afraid that if something went wrong and I had to slam my foot on the break, I’d hurt my hip. So I had my parents drive me to the pool at the gym. Almost every night, I’d go just before closing, trying to find a time when the water wasn’t so choppy. I was so weak and out of shape when I first started going that everything hurt, if I went at at time when there were tons of lap swimmers.

So I’d try to go right before closing, when most people had already gotten out to shower. I’d stay in until the very end and then more or less have to rush outside, with my hair still wet.

There are a lot of pictures of me taken during that time period, of me out with my friends in downtown Boston. All of them are dressed up– high heels, makeup, straightened hair. And there I am– my outfit is cute, but my hair is still wet. (It sounds like a small thing, but honestly– I think my inability to keep up appearances actually affected some of my “friendships,” which I later realized weren’t really friendships.  More on that later).

I was willing to make sacrifices for the sake of getting over this problem. But now I am so frustrated, looking back, because the whole thing seems so pointless.

Turning point #3 came when one of my physical therapists finally showed me how to adjust my SI joints myself using the Muscle Energy Technique. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this was also life-changing, because now I did not need to depend on my chiropractor. When my leg got stuck, I was able to free it myself.

That brings me up to where I was in February, when I wrote my post about how I was doing better and things were feeling more stable. I had a feeling the end was sort of in sight, because I was starting to be able to do more and more. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet; I still had to check my SI joint and do my self-adjustments several times a day.

Then, this summer I realized that, after going all of June without having a chiropractic adjustment to my SI joints, I was actually doing better. I decided to experiment with not having any further adjustments to the area, to see what happens.

Here it is: turning point #4.

I can honestly tell you that my SI joints have not locked up once all summer. Things have not necessarily felt perfect, but I can tell it’s just muscle imbalance; it’s not the joint.

That same horrible dull ache at the intersection of my spine and pelvis? Gone. Just a memory at this point.

That awful, painstaking feeling of not being able to move my legs, of having a belt wrapped around my upper thighs?  Gone.  I’m almost starting to forget what it felt ike.

****

It is at once exhilarating and frustrating to realize that I think the very thing which got me started on my road to healing– the chiropractic adjustments– actually became detrimental in the end.

I have seen at least one bad chiropractor who I don’t trust, and would never for a million dollars allow to touch me again.

I don’t see my chiropractor that way.

I think he was, actually, able to correctly diagnose the problem, and I also do think his adjustments were putting my joints into proper alignment.

It’s just that, to an extent, I think my body also needed to be able to find an equilibrium.

The adjustments became too much, somehow.  Perhaps they were too much force for my ligaments, or perhaps they overly disrupted the pattern my muscles were used to holding everything in.

I definitely don’t feel that I was permanently injured by them, or anything like that.

It’s just that, at some point, my body just wanted to be able to locate some sort of homeostasis.  For my muscles and nervous system to have a chance to adapt to the way things were– even if, alignment-wise, it wasn’t “perfect.”

Now, I am certainly not suggesting that I would have gotten better if I had just left my SI joints alone, and allowed them to stay “stuck.”  That absolutely 100% would have failed.  When I think back to that horrible, dull, aching, grinding sensation, of two parts of the joint rubbing together in a way they were never meant to rub together… no.  Absolutely not.  There was no way any form of healing could have come out of that.  You can’t build muscle and get stronger when you can’t even move one of your legs.

But the chiropractic adjustments were just too rough.

I wish I had been shown how to do the self-adjustments from the beginning.  As I’ve learned in all of my PT prerequisite classes, your body has built-in reflexes that keep you from injuring yourself during normal movement.  When you perform a self-adjustment for the SI joint (which involves contracting certain muscles around the joint in a particular way), your nervous system will use these special reflexes to ensure that you don’t injure yourself, or put unhealthy levels of strain on the joint.  There is a level of precision here that no chiropractic adjustment can re-create.

Now, to be fair: I don’t know that I would have been able to develop the skills necessary to identify which way I needed to actually adjust my SI joints, without all of the feedback I’d gotten in my chiropractic visits over the years.  Compared to my PT, I actually think my chiropractor is better at diagnosing exactly what’s happening in the joint.

It’s just that his actual method of fixing that problem ends up backfiring.

Now that I know what I know, I have a lot of ideas for how someone like me could have been helped out of this situation a lot more quickly.

For example, having a PT who really took the time to teach about the SI joint, rather than just prescribing exercises.

Not just about the anatomy of the joint, but how to self-diagnose which way your pelvis is rotated, as in my experience, the self-adjustments have been the way to all healing.

Of course, as I write this,  I also reflect back on the fact that I was lucky to find a PT who knew about the SI joint at all.  Back in 2011, it didn’t seem that most physical therapists were aware that it could cause problems (although thankfully, that seems to be changing).

I am going to continue to talk about the SI joint– both in terms of chronicling my own healing, as well as just to hopefully raise awareness.

I’m also now working on a second site, My Sacroiliac Joint Saga, where I will be talking about everything I’ve learned.

Looking back, all of the tools exist that would have allowed me not to suffer for so long.  It was only ever a matter of finding them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “The end of my SI joint problems is officially in sight.

  1. Karin West says:

    Your story is giving me so much hope! I have been in pain for almost a year and am starting another round of physical therapy. The therapist evaluated me and found the SI joint out of alignment and will treat me for muscular imbalance, and core strength. I am glad to hear about the aquatic therapy and will research that and see if I can add this as well. It is so depressing when there is no definitive diagnosis and things just get worse. Even the bottom of my feet now hurt after standing for a while. Sure hope I can report such good results as you got. Again, thanks for giving me hope!

    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Karin, thank you so, so much for your comment! It really means a lot to me to know my blog is helping people. And yes, I totally hear you about the bottom of your feet hurting– having the SI joint out of alignment can sort of feel like knocking over the first in a row of dominos, when you start to develop pain in other places too. But yes, there is absolutely reason to believe that you can heal! Wishing you the best of luck going forward– feel free to reach out with any questions!

      • Karin West says:

        So I had my first session of therapy today. My therapist reset my joint very gently and then went on to the first exercise. It put a huge smile on my face. Why? Because it was how to find and engage your transverse abdominals!!! Your story not only gave me hope, but also confidence in my therapist and excitement about the weeks to come. Your blog is an absolute blessing to me!

  2. LORI ANN says:

    Thank you for sharing your SI story. I am sitting at my computer searching for help. I am completely new with this thing. About 2 weeks ago I guess I started with some lower back issues. To the left of my spine, if I would sit and arch my back or stretch in a certain way it would just grab and cause pain. My kids would wonder when I bent over why I would yelp in pain. So hubby said I ought to get in to see my fav chiropractor. She worked me over good and hard. She is the one who informed me of this being SI joint. One thing she did do was fix my knee which is not what I even went for. But after I told her I’d had knee pain for at least a year, she found my knee cap wasn’t in place. Thank God, I had foreseen surgery coming. Nope. Better now. But my back….my HIP! Honestly I am scared. I went to her on Thursday afternoon. She said to call in a couple days if I wasn’t feeling better. Sat and Sun nights was not sleeping good….feeling pressure in my hip area. Something doesn’t feel right. I don’t know if I should call her today (Monday) and have her see me again, only to ruin me more or what. I don’t know even if she ruined me. Am I having this pain because of the adjustment and need to just get through it until it calms down? Maybe the adjustment this way was needed and needs to now just heal. I don’t know. I am scared. Taking ibuprofen allowed me to sleep last night. Any thoughts? Kind of desperate to know what I should do….seeking out information on internet. That’s me… Just watching 2 chiropractors on youtube showing how to do stuff to myself. I don’t even know if my joint is out of place or what. I don’t know that it ever was. I feel like crying.

    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Lori Ann, I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through, but take a deep breath! It’s going to be okay!

      From everything I’ve been through personally, and from talking with other people, I don’t think your chiropractor could permanently “ruin” you with one adjustment. If she had, you would have known sooner– it would have hurt a lot more immediately afterwards.

      However, if you are this sore for so many days afterward, it is possible that the adjustment was too forceful for you. As you know from my story, chiropractic adjustments in general turned out to be too forceful for me– but they didn’t permanently injure me. I was able to recover pretty quickly once I stopped receiving them.

      I would recommend that you keep a very detailed journal about your symptoms. If you choose to go back to this chiropractor, tell her what happened and ask if she has more gentle adjustments she can use.

      I personally would only recommend that people get adjusted by chiropractors who use something called the Activator tool– it allows for more gentle adjustments than the adjustments people do by hand. https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/activator-method-chiropractic-technique

      I think it’s a lot to expect yourself to be able to adjust your own SI joints, based on watching Youtube videos. I have seen many of these videos myself, and I think they are a bit unrealistic. I’m glad there are so many chiropractors and PT’s out there trying to share their knowledge, but I think sometimes they don’t have a great sense of what the average person is actually going to be able to understand.

      It sounds like you definitely need to be seeking out a second opinion. I’d highly recommend that you try to find a doctor or a physical therapist with experience in treating the SI joint. I do think chiropractors have something to offer, but based on my own experience, I don’t think that seeing a chiropractor alone is necessarily enough to heal SI joint dysfunction.

      Here are a few posts from my SI joint blog I think you might find helpful:

      A type of specialist you might want to see: Physiatrists (they are doctors who specialize in musculoskeletal disorders) https://sijointsaga.com/2017/09/29/sacroiliac-joint-doctor/

      An awesome video where a physiatrist explains SI joint dysfunction in detail– gives you a sense of what’s going on and possible treatment methods https://sijointsaga.com/2017/07/24/physiatrist-si-dysfunction/

      I hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions!

  3. meghan says:

    Thank you for your story. I feel like I am at the beginning of my saga. Pelvic joint pain during pregnancy. I have been aeeing the chiropractor twice a week for four weeks. While I appreciate it so much bc of the initial improvement I felt I am starting to feel I might get “addicted”. I find myself wishing the next adjustment came sooner. I know my lower body is weak. Things have to tighten up but how. The adjustments are a short term fix until 48 hours later when things slip out of place. So here is my question: how do you know how much is too much? When do I stop going to the chiropractor and hop in the pool?

    • sunlight in winter says:

      Hi Meghan, I’m happy to hear my blog has been helpful for you. I think it can really be a process of trial and error, and keeping careful observations over time. I highly recommend keeping a diary of how you feel from day to day, and what you did on a given day (did you go to the chiropractor, did you work out, etc.). This can help you keep track of changes, or notice things that help or hurt you over time.

      I didn’t wait to stop going to the chiropractor before I started going to the pool, because my chiropractor himself told me I wasn’t going to see long term improvement until I built up the muscle strength to hold my joints in place better. And he was right– once I did start to build up some strength, I found that I was able to space my chiropractor visits farther and farther apart over time.

      The key is to start out with exercises that are really gentle. Ideally, you would find a pool that isn’t too hard to get in and out of (some pools have accessible ladders which make it easier if you have trouble walking). I always preferred to go during non-peak times of the day, so the water was calm and I could do my own thing without worrying about people swimming into me. Little things like this can help make it easier to start out if you’re in a lot of pain.

      Here are a few posts I wanted to make sure you saw:

      The goal of strengthening is to build up your body’s own support system:
      https://sijointsaga.com/2017/10/04/heal-sacroiliac-joint/

      Some gentle core exercises you can do on land:
      https://sijointsaga.com/2017/09/14/core-exercises/

      Should you exercise when your SI joints are out of alignment? https://sijointsaga.com/2017/12/28/exercise-si-joints-alignment/

      Hope this helps!

  4. rachelmeeks says:

    Love love love! What a journey this has been, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s brave to share a story like that when you don’t know for sure that it’s going to have a happy ending. Congrats to you! I hope you’re celebrating!

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