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John's Story

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Paddling Pennsylvania’s waterways, pain free

John Y., 59, put his kayaking paddles up and hiking shoes away when a bulging disc in his spine caused increasing pain. Geisinger physicians helped him avoid surgery, become free of chronic back pain and get back onto Pennsylvania’s beautiful mountain lakes.

Hiking and kayaking were weekly hobbies for John Y., of Drums, PA, until back pain began nagging him in the winter of 2009.

“I woke up one morning with some minor back pain, but I thought it would eventually go away,” he says. “But over several weeks it got gradually worse.”

Using an MRI, his family physician diagnosed John with a bulging disc in his spine plus a bone spur on one vertebra. These conditions cause pain when they interfere with the nerves along the spinal column.

More pain, less activity

Over several months, the pain grew worse, and numbness and tingling began to radiate down John’s leg. Unable to hoist his 14’ kayak atop his SUV to transport it or even to lower himself into the craft once it was in the water, kayaking as well as hiking were soon both out of the question. At work, sitting or standing for long periods was painful. At home, restful sleep was difficult to attain. 

“By summertime, I wasn’t even waking straight,” he says. “The pain medication was a crippler, too, because of the way it made me feel.”

Though hot and cold packs, stretches and medications help many people with back pain, nothing gave John significant relief. His doctor suggested back surgery to repair the disc.

“That could leave me with limited movement in my spine,” John says. “I didn’t want surgery to be my only choice.”

With more than 35 years’ experience as a healthcare professional, John was familiar with Geisinger’s Pain Management Center. He asked for a referral.

“They were quick to get an appointment for me, and I appreciated it,” John says. “By this time, I’d been sleeping in my recliner in the living room for almost three months, because I could not get comfortable in my bed. And I had stopped all exercise, because I was afraid I’d injure it further.” 

Injections, not surgery

During his consultation with Geisinger’s pain management specialists that summer, John was thankful to learn that they offered other recommendations besides surgery. They thought John would benefit from injections of a medication to reduce swelling in the area of the pain.

“That was the ticket,” John says. “As soon as I got the injection, I felt some relief. It was immediate. Within a couple of days, I noticed a significant difference.”

John’s pain continued to decrease, and walking and other activities became easier. After a second injection, his numbness and pain disappeared entirely. Today, he’s off all pain medications, though he has the option of getting additional shots if he needs them. But John says he feels great. Friends and coworkers, too, notice the change.

What’s your secret?

“People ask me about my treatment because I am so different without that pain and without the pain medications,” John says. “I’m back to sleeping in my own bed and can put the kayak on top of the car for daytrips again.” 

By late summer, only weeks after treatment, he had resumed weekend jaunts to paddle the still waters of Lake Jean, in Rickett’s Glen State Park, and Lake Tuscarora in northern Pennsylvania. 

“I’m also planning a several day-long remote camping trip to the Adirondacks with a close friend,” he says. “I consider myself lucky, because the pain was really debilitating. The pain relief I got at Geisinger—without surgery—is like a miracle.”