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 four 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 me— it’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 a foam roller. 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 did not seem that most physical therapists did not know 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’ll keep talking about it here, as well as my sacroiliac joint resource blog, where I link to helpful resources).
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.