Doctors in Japan say a man’s accidental ingestion of a toothpick left him dealing with months of pain in his back and leg—all caused by said toothpick getting stuck in his rectum. Once the toothpick was removed, the man’s troubles fortunately went away.
The strange medical tale was detailed this week in BMJ Case Reports. According to the report, the 67-year-old man first reached out for help when he had been experiencing two months of pain along his right buttock and thigh. MRI scans suggested that the source of this pain was stenosis around the lower back, a condition where the spaces within our spine begin to narrow—this narrowing can then pinch the surrounding nerves, leading to painful or numbing sensations. Though stenosis can be managed conservatively with drugs and physical therapy, the doctors opted for surgery to treat it.
When they performed a CT scan on the man just before the operation, though, they found a surprise in his rectum: a 7-centimeter-long rod eventually determined to be a toothpick that the man had accidentally swallowed. Six days after the find, the man’s pain in his right leg quickly got worse, prompting doctors to remove the toothpick from its hiding place as soon as possible. Thankfully, after they did, his pain went away and hasn’t come back since, all but confirming the toothpick as the real cause of his symptoms.
Most of the time, when a foreign body in the rectum stirs up trouble, it’s because someone intentionally put it there, for whatever reason. But it’s not unheard of for hardier materials, like animal bones, introduced into the body the more common way to wind up stuck there. In this case, the doctors theorize that the pointy end of the toothpick had ended up right next to one particular branch of nerves in the spinal cord, causing enough pressure to account for the localized symptoms along the man’s right butt and leg.
The exact series of unfortunate events that led to this man’s case is “extremely rare,” the doctors wrote, but “physicians should be mindful to avoid misdiagnosis.”
As for the rest of us, maybe this story will make some think twice about absentmindedly chewing on toothpicks.