I was just working on revamping the “My Story” page for this blog, and I ended up reflecting on one aspect of this saga which I really haven’t talked about as much:
How totally and completely crazy I felt when I was first trying to get help for this problem.
The first time one of my SI joints locked up, in 2011, it was a pretty terrifying experience. It’s really hard to describe to anyone who’s never experienced it, but basically, I felt a weird “slipping” sensation in my lower back, and then I couldn’t lift my left leg more than an inch or two off the ground. It actually didn’t hurt a ton, but it was just… stuck. It was an incredibly disorienting feeling, and it made me feel helpless. I couldn’t walk normally, and I couldn’t go up and down stairs normally either– I could only lead with my good leg on each step.
Luckily, I saw my chiropractor the next day, and he was able to identify the problem. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction, he said. My left hip bone had rotated backwards, only a few millimeters, but it had become “jammed” against the base of my spine, making it hard in turn for me to move my leg.
And just like that, with a few clicks of his “Activator” tool (it’s a more gentle form of chiropractic adjustment) he rotated my hip back into place, and I was able to move my leg again.
Of course, as I have chronicled in other posts, the problem kept coming back. Chiropractic adjustments turned out to only be a temporary fix.
I tried to look in other places for answers. After all, I knew chiropractors basically fell out of the realm of “traditional” approaches. I wanted to find someone more traditional to back up what my chiropractor said.
But really, I couldn’t find anyone who seemed to understand what I was talking about, when I mentioned the idea of my hip bone rotating, or my leg feeling “stuck.”
I, of course, saw my primary care physician, and after her, several specialists, including orthopedists and physiatrists.
I also saw about four physical therapists, none of whom were able to “free” my leg the way my chiropractor could. Mostly, they gave me exercises I couldn’t do when my leg was stuck, and looked confused when I asked them why this was the case.
The only person who could free my leg, and reduce my pain, was my chiropractor.
As I’ve written elsewhere, eventually things did fall into place for me, and I came to realize that perhaps, if I had looked a little more persistently, I might have found better people to help me sooner.
Yet, at the same time– some of the people I did see were looking at me like I was crazy. I knew what it must sound like, for me to walk in saying “well, all of the doctors so far have said they don’t understand, but my chiropractor says this…”.
So, after seeing about five doctors and five physical therapists each, I mean… you can see why it made sense for me at the time to take a step back, try to do my pool workouts on my own, and just stick with the chiropractor who actually understood the problem.
It was embarrassing, honestly. If I was afraid to tell a new doctor, imagine how it felt when I was simply trying to explain to my friends. “Yeah, I can’t really walk fast right now, and I have to be super careful about how I move. If I take one wrong step or turn too quickly, my whole pelvis will shift and I won’t be able to walk right until I go back and see my chiropractor.” I mean, you can see why I’d be afraid people would judge me for that. It sounds nuts.
My real friends, of course, did stick by me. But this was a great way to weed out people who didn’t have much patience, or who really were just looking for an activity partner more than they were looking for a friend. (And, by “great” I mean it was really unexpected and emotionally painful).
From where I write now in 2017, I can see that awareness of SI joint dysfunction has really grown. I can see this as a blogger, looking up resources to share, and I saw it as a prospective PT student, shadowing physical therapists and asking tons of questions.
It’s pretty dramatic how things have changed. Now, even the American Physical Therapy Association has a guide on Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction on their website.
Now, I know that SI joint dysfunction is a real problem that has been under-recognized by the medical field. As surgeon Dr. Carter Beck explains in this interview, for most of the 20th century, doctors focused on the spine as the main cause of lower back pain; it’s only been in recent decades that the SI joint has gotten more attention.
Now, the problem is becoming better recognized by doctors and PT’s. Additional new forms of treatment, such as surgery and prolotherapy injections, are also being developed (although at this point, they are still somewhat in the preliminary stages).
I just wanted to put this post out there for 2014 me, as well as any of you who might be struggling or feeling a bit lost.
Your SI joint problems are real, and chances are very high there are answers out there for you, as there were for me.
You just have to keep searching.