Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction (SI): An Inspirational Story & 3 Things to Consider If You Have Back Pain by Dr. Niteesh Bharara
Kathryn Butterfield is only 27 years old, but in many ways, she’s already lived a lifetime. In fact, she’s dealt with debilitating hip and back pain for most of her life. It started when she was 13 and fell on the ice. Kathryn remembers the day: "I swung my backpack over my shoulder in 9th grade and suddenly I was literally like a 90-year-old woman hunched over in excruciating pain. By the time my mom got to school to pick me up, I was physically shaking. That's the first time that my joint went out of alignment.”
Photo: Kathryn Butterfield and daughter, Paisley, courtesy of Virginia Spine Institute.
After that Kathryn says her joints kept popping out of alignment with increasing regularity. The terrible pain associated with it stayed with her for more than a decade. At times it was so excruciating, she says it felt like her joints were on fire. Often, she recalls feeling them pop out of alignment, leaving one leg crooked and shorter than the other, causing her to drag a leg, even struggling to walk and stand. This triggered terrible muscle pain in her back and neck that was so bad she thought she might end up in a wheelchair. She even had difficulty turning her head while driving.
Kathryn sought help from countless doctors throughout the years and was in and out of physical therapy. She even spent $32,000 on injections. They helped for exactly one year before the pain returned, stronger and worse than ever. When she came to me, she was considering a new surgical option to fuse one of the joints. I suggested regenerative medicine first.
On February 13, 2020, she had a stem cell procedure at the Virginia Spine Institute. I injected stem cells in her SI joints and all the muscles and ligaments along her lower spine – from the back of her buttocks to the front where her hips connect to the pubic bone. In time those stem cells not only healed her damaged tissue, they generated new tissue. Recovery, in her case, took a few months because while her SI joint pain went away quickly, she still had to strengthen her muscles again and re-learn to walk and climb stairs. That required vigilance, time and regular physical therapy. Within about six months, Kathryn was back to a new and better normal and a year later she felt strong enough to carry a child.
“I really feel like I’m now on a completely different road in life. I can actually live now. I’m so much nicer and happier because I’m not in pain. I really feel like a totally different person,” she told me.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is the source of up to one-fourth of all back pain. While it can be debilitating for many, finding relief isn’t always easy. Countless offerings online ranging from injections, medications and bracing to electrical stimulation devices, physical therapy and more promise to "cure" your SI pain.
Here are three things to consider if you are suffering from SI joint pain:
- Don't give up on yourself and resign yourself to living a life in pain. There are options. Look for them.
- Get a second and even a third opinion. Different doctors have seen different kinds of patients in their practices and have varying expertise. If you are uncomfortable with a diagnosis or a doctor's opinion, see someone else. Getting that second or third opinion can help you make an informed decision on the best course of treatment.
- Consider regenerative medicine. There are different types of treatments under the umbrella of regenerative medicine. Two innovative regenerative medicine treatments helped Kathryn, stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Two years later her hips haven't popped out of alignment once.
Today Kathryn is pain free and walking without any problems. She bikes and walks for exercise and works as a hairdresser which requires her to stand all day and now owns her own salon. And most important of all, she’s now mother to her daughter, Paisley, who was born this year. Kathryn came back to me in May of 2022 for platelet rich plasma or PRP injections into her SI joint because she wanted to get on top of some residual muscle tightness she was feeling. PRP resolved that issue and her hips have stayed in alignment now for more than 2 years.
“I look back and don’t even know how I functioned day to day,” Kathryn says. “In some ways, my recovery feels like a miracle but I think it’s really just about the treatments that are out there when you find your way to a doctor who knows what they’re doing.”
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