Plenty of people out there love cracking their joints – fingers, backs, necks, you name it – and even though cautionary tales abound, no one really knows what might happen if you keep it up. Is it bad? Is it fine? Who can really say?

At least, until a freak accident happens.

23-year-old paramedic Natalie Kunicki learned the hard way that it really can be bad after she stretched and cracked her neck, then woke up 15 minutes later unable to move her left leg.

“People need to be more mindful when doing any chiropractic exercises or strenuous gym weights. I was in bed watching stuff with a friend when it happened. I stretched my neck and I could just hear this ‘crack, crack, crack’. My friend asked ‘was that your neck?’ but all my joints crack quite a bit so I didn’t think anything of it. I just laughed.”

She fell to the floor when she tried to walk and, after a few minutes of wrapping her head around the idea, she called emergency services – her own employer.

“I’m a paramedic and I didn’t ring 999 for 10 minutes because I thought it was too unlikely it would be a stroke when I should have known much better. Every minute more of your brain cells are dying, so don’t ever discount a stroke just because someone is young.”

She was taken to the hospital where doctors used a CT scan to confirm that she’d had a stroke. Natalie was “in shock,” never believing someone her age could have a stroke following an innocuous stretch.

“People need to know that even if you’re young, something this simple can cause a stroke. I wasn’t even trying to crack my neck. I just moved and it happened.”

Doctors discovered her a major artery had burst in her spine and caused a blood clot to form in her brain, which is what triggered the stroke. She has a long haul of exercises, mental toughness, and time to get back to walking – and working – again.

“The doctors told me later that just that stretching of my neck had caused my vertebral artery to rupture. It was just spontaneous and there’s a one in a million chance of it happening.”

Her friends at the ambulance service have helped her get through her physical therapy and kept up her spirits when they’ve lagged, and the promise of getting back to work keeps her eyes on the prize.

Image Credit: Pixabay

“I just love my job and I want to get back to it. I’m so used to being busy and now I feel like I’m climbing the walls a bit. I definitely want to get back to work as soon as I can.”

Doctors were unable to clear the clot in her brain, which means Natalie still only has limited use of her left side, though they do expect the clot to dissolve on its own over time.

No timeline is for sure, but they expect her to make a full recovery within 6-12 months.

Image Credit: Pixabay

In the meantime, Natalie is using her experience to help other young people to be more aware that strokes don’t only happen to older people.

“I have been called out to so many people having strokes and they’re always in their 70s or 80s. I have never been to a young person having a stroke. Mine was one in a million but a ruptured vertebral artery is actually quite a common cause of strokes in young people.”

Natalie is certainly making the best of a horrible situation, and while we all hope she makes a full recovery, I’m also sure that she’s doing all she can while she waits.