Photo by Bill Ward, licensed under Flickr Creative Commons. Untouched except number 28 circled in green.
I, myself, can hardly believe it. But it’s true… yesterday was one year since I had a Rialto SI joint fusion on my right side. If you’re new to my journey and wish to find an easy way to navigate the timeline, go to the “About” tab on the menu, at the top of the page. It will offer you a lightning fast tutorial on how to best follow my story. For everyone else, read on.
When I started re-researching my sacroiliac joint problems and found several groups on Facebook that were devoted to the syndrome, I had a million questions. I especially wanted to talk to people who’d had a fusion because I wondered: did they regret it? Did it cause more problems or solve them? How did they decide which fixation route to go? Orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon? One side or both? So many people graciously shared their stories and I am incredibly grateful to them for taking the time to do so. Even though they’re probably largely unaware of it, each and every one of them helped me make my own decisions.
So to answer my own questions for those of you who are still sifting through it all:
I don’t regret it at all.
Neurosurgeon (Carter Beck.)
One side — right.
Surgery solved a major problem, but not all of them. It reduced my chronic lumbar pain by about 90%, but I still have muscular problems in my right hip/glute area that sometimes make it difficult to sleep on my right side. I still have frequent kinks in my upper back and neck (which send me running to my chiropractor.) I still have facet joint compression at L5/S1. I still have autoimmune illnesses that flare from time to time. They also require me to not eat junk and get enough sleep (inflammation is my arch enemy. And eating right/sleeping enough are vital to my feeling good.) If only a sacroiliac joint fusion would solve my every ache and pain. Unfortunately, pain management is more of a combo approach for me. And I dare say I believe it’s a combo situation for the majority of us.
But there’s another piece of my pain puzzle that I haven’t talked much about. After my SI joint fusion I was still having a significant amount of groin pain. It wasn’t as bad as pre-surgery, but it was enough that I was worried about it. I wrote about the whole thing here, but to summarize it I found out I had a small labral tear, had an injection into the hip joint capsule, which didn’t help my pain a whole lot. I’d give it 20% tops.
My hip guy said he really, really, really didn’t think the tear was the source of my pain. According to him, more than half of people over the age of 60 have labral tears, and many are asymptomatic. (For the record I’m still in my mid-fifties, but I did make note of his stats.) So I moved on to the next suspicion I had: scar tissue.
In 1995 I had abdominal surgery that I suspected had left me with some significant scar tissue. But when I mentioned it to doctors they usually minimized it and either wrote me another prescription, sent me to another doctor/therapist, or told me to get over it.
And here’s the very latest news on my pain front: I had laparoscopic, robotic surgery to remove my ovaries on December 20th and I asked my doctor to please look for scar tissue while she was in there. I have long felt like it was contributing to my pelvic dysfunction. She was very supportive and nice, never minimizing or arguing with my theory. She took a wait-and-see approach. And guess what? She had to call in a general surgeon to remove scar tissue before she could finish removing my ovaries and tubes. My left ovary was completely trapped by scar tissue, and I had some small adhesions to my bowel and a couple of calcified spots in my abdomen that they sent to pathology to make sure weren’t malignancies (they weren’t, thank God.) Before surgery, I had to be careful before I turned over in bed. I had to brace myself before sneezing. I had to be careful when doing cat/cow in yoga, because all of those things could send a shock and/or spasm through my abdomen. Before surgery if I ran my finger over my bikini scar it felt like there was piping underneath the skin. After surgery that piping was gone, as was the pulling and spasms and sudden shocks of pain in my lower abdomen.
And here’s my theory: many of my chronic sacral torsions were due to the pulling of my scar tissue. My physical therapist told me once that even though a lot of my pain was on my right, she felt a pulling from the left.
Since my scar tissue removal, I don’t have any more torsions. I have no pain when I sneeze or turn over in bed. I can still tend to be sore during the cow part of cat/cow, but nothing like before.
And while my groin bothers me a little from time to time, it’s nothing like it was. I believe that the scar tissue removal indirectly took some pull off my femoral head, which allowed things to relax.
The moral of this story is to listen to yourself. Follow your heart. Hold your opinions loosely so you are open to direction. But for God’s sake, hold them. Humbly investigate them. Pray about it. Then go with your heart. (I’m looking at you, Angela.)
Today, one year after my SI joint fusion I am happy to say that two of my suspicions were right: I did have torn pelvic ligaments, and I did have scar tissue. Both felt like major vindication for me—I’m not crazy! Though I am still very much in the process of my body settling in to a new normal, for the first time in 30 years I feel like I have a strong foundation to build on. Before addressing these two pieces of my dysfunction, all of the PT exercises, chiropractic, acupuncture and a host of other remedies wouldn’t work long term. There wasn’t anything sound to build on.
Today I can finally walk straight, which is to say I don’t feel like I’m compensating anymore. I am no longer twisted, pelvically speaking. I have not gotten back on a strong exercise program yet but I’m gonna do it soon, and I think it’ll make a big difference in my day to day pain level.
Now I’m on to the next pieces of my puzzle: Somatics. Trauma and the brain. Pushing through the limitations my mind still thinks I have. And it has those ideas for good reason: I had to protect and compensate for my SIJD and scar tissue for three decades. Old habits die hard. I have a lot to say about all of this even though I’m still very much a newbie in that whole arena. I’ll write about it next, which will be less of an explanation and more of a taking you along for my ride.
I am not an open/shut case of fusion surgery success. But I do think my surgery was successful. It’s just that I have other things to address. Today, however, I am incredibly grateful for the progress I’ve been able to make. Thanks be to God.