Why I spent the weekend in the ER after a chiropractor visit

Hi everyone!  So… this is not all what I had been planning to write about this week.  But I had the craziest experience this weekend, and I feel a responsibility to spread the word about what happened to me.

I need to start out by saying that– thank God– I haven’t been permanently injured.  But my understanding from the emergency room doctors is that I’m lucky I wasn’t– and that plenty of people are.  

I’m not quite sure what the best way to tell the whole story is.  I spent time in two different emergency rooms and, as someone who plans to work in the medical field, learned a lot.  There is so much I want to analyze, and lessons I will be drawing from this.

But the most important thing to me right now is getting the word out as fast as I possibly can, in case my story can influence someone else.  So let me just tell you what happened.

Some background info:

As many of you know, I stopped receiving chiropractic adjustments to my SI joints because I found they were counterproductive to my healing.  The seemed to place too much force on the already-sprained ligaments, and although they put things into place temporarily, I found I did better when I stopped getting adjusted and used only the Muscle Energy Technique on myself.  (This was the key to my finally getting better).

But since then, I have still gone back at times for pain in the rest of my back and neck.  I have mentioned rotation of the lumbar vertebrae as something that has also caused me pain at times, and I’ve found chiropractic visits have actually given me a lot of relief for that.

375px-lumbar_vertebrae_anterior

The lumbar vertebrae

I’ve sometimes been skeptical of the chiropractic profession, but quite frankly, I received so much pain relief from the adjustments that I was willing to keep going.   I hadn’t found that the adjustments made any other part of my body so unstable, in the way that they did to the SI joints.

And I only went to chiropractors who used the Activator tool, which is supposed to be a gentler and safer alternative to the more vigorous adjustments chiropractors can do with their hands.

However, my opinion of chiropractic safety is totally different after what happened on Friday.

What happened

I just moved recently, and I’ve still been carrying things in and out of my new place.  I had really been pushing it, and on Friday, I knew my back was sort of twisted up, more so than usual.  I had a pretty big weekend planned, including going out dancing with friends, so I wanted to sort of “undo” the effects of moving and have a carefree weekend.  (As I write this, I’m sort of reprimanding myself that maybe looking for a “quick fix” was not a great idea).

So I booked a last minute appointment with my chiropractor and he performed the same adjustments on me using the Activator tool that he has a million times.

For those of you who don’t know what the Activator tool is, it’s a very small handheld device that applies a directed amount of pressure to a very small, localized area.  (Like, the tip of it that actually touches you is slightly smaller than a quarter).  It’s a small thing, but when someone trained hits one of your vertebrae in just the right place, even that relatively small amount of force can change the alignment of the bones.  I know, because I have felt the pain relief and increased range of motion from it many times.

However, this time was different.  He was adjusting one of my lumbar vertebrae (that means one of the vertebrae in my lower back).  And I got a shooting pain all the way down my left leg, down to my left foot, that was worse than any other pain I’d felt before during an adjustment.

I’d had some odd neurological sensations during adjustments before.  My chiropractor (and some of the others I’ve seen) always brushed it off and said it was normal, or that it was just the body adjusting to being in a new position.

However, this pain was worse.  It wasn’t excruciating, but it also didn’t feel normal.  It felt like my body telling me something was wrong.

Once I stood up, things got worse.

The pain in my left leg hadn’t totally gone away, and I was having tingling in both of my feet.  Worse, I felt unsteady, like I was drunk from the waist down.  My calf muscles were shaking, and I felt as though my knees were going to give out.

If you had been in the room at that moment in time, you would have seen my lower legs visibly shaking.  It wasn’t just a sensation– it was clear as day.

Yet, my chiropractor still reassured me that it was just my body adjusting to being in a new position.  He was very polite, but also didn’t really look at me or examine me.

I sat down in a chair to rest, and…. he actually left and went home, leaving me with the secretary.  I was his last patient of the day.  (The emergency room doctor was astounded when I said this!).

I hung out in the chair for a while, and walked around the office a few times, seeing if things started to feel more normal.  It was my left leg that felt limp, as if it might give out underneath me.  I felt like I couldn’t fully control it when it came time to take a step, as if I had to rely more on my right leg.

Now, if something like this ever happens to me again, I would go straight to an emergency room. 

But again, at the time, I’d been told so many times that this sort of thing was normal following an adjustment.  And I’d sort of experienced it before, feeling a little funny or off-kilter when it was time to walk out to my car.   It had always worn away by the time I got home.

So I drove home, and got out of the car expecting to feel totally normal.  Yet, I didn’t.  I was still walking strangely.

However, I was late to meet some friends so I didn’t think too much about it, and headed out for the night.  I was still expecting it to wear off.  We were sitting down at a restaurant and I honestly was not in much pain.

Yet, when I came home around midnight and went to walk into my apartment, it hit me.  This was NOT normal.  This was NOT my body adjusting anymore.  I’d taken enough science classes to know this.  These were neurological symptoms.

That’s when I picked up and went to the ER.  

For those of you in the Boston area who may be curious, I went to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where I’m happy to say there was hardly any wait time to see a doctor.  I did end up having to wait a few hours for x-ray and MRI, as they had to call the techs in from home, and then more urgent patients went before me.

But– thank God– both the x-ray and the MRI of my lumbar spine were totally normal, as was my neurological exam.

However, both the doctor AND the nurse warned me that they see this sort of thing ALL the time, and that I was lucky nothing worse had occurred.  I asked what sorts of injuries they saw, and they both got a look on their face like “Wow, you don’t even want to know.”  The doctor literally said, “The list is too long for me to get into right now” (as he had other patients waiting).

The nurse specified a bit more and explained they saw things like bone fractures, as well as injuries to nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins).  They saw people with permanent nerve damage.  And worse, they saw people with strokes (which is somewhat well-known to be a risk of neck adjustments, due to the position of the arteries in the neck relative to the vertebrae).

I was just in total shock and awe.  I had done some research on the risks of chiropractic adjustments before, as, again, I’d heard of the risk of stroke of neck adjustments.

But nothing I’d found online had ever given me the sense that the risks were this prevalent.  Both the doctor and the nurse looked me in the eye and said “We would never go to a chiropractor.”

The doctor was especially adamant.

He said “We see things like this all the time, and I am very, VERY glad that your symptoms aren’t going to be permanent.  I can’t tell you not to go back to the chiropractor, but look at what happened.  You ended up here.  And you are lucky it wasn’t worse.”

So finally, at 7 am, I drove home.  

I had been reassured that spinal cord was intact and not being pinched by anything– at least not in the lumbar spine, which was the area we had been concerned about due to my symptoms.

The final pronouncement was that it was something musculoskeletal and would wear off with time.

However, things would turn out not to be quite so simple.  

I am still okay, as you will see in my next post.  But this insane weekend was far from over.

Click here to see my next post!

 

4 thoughts on “Why I spent the weekend in the ER after a chiropractor visit

  1. Invisibly Me says:

    Quite a way to learn this – I’m so sorry you had such pain and had to go through all of that. I’m glad you found knowledgeable doctors at the ER who knew what they were talking about, and also that you’re going to be okay. A very important message to get across to others so they don’t have the same experience or worse… x

    Liked by 1 person

    • sunlight in winter says:

      Yes– it was quite the weekend! I’m just grateful it isn’t permanent. And that’s interesting– my experience was sort of the opposite. When I first developed SIJD, my chiropractor was actually the first (and only) person I found for a while who even knew what was going on. I even saw a spine specialist who essentially said he didn’t understand SIJD, but that I should keep going to the chiropractor if it helped. I’m so glad nothing worse happened, because I’ve been adjusted SO many times!

      Like

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