For more than five generations, Judy Lane’s family has lived in the Skagit Valley. “It’s been a wonderful place to live, raise a family — and work,” says Judy. For more than 34 years, she worked as a custodian for the Mt. Vernon School District.
“I really enjoyed my job,” Judy says, “but it was hard on my body. I lifted and moved things, and never gave it a thought.”
Ten years ago, Judy’s work began to take a toll on her body. She began to feel rumblings of pain in her back, which slowly grew worse. When it didn’t go away, she went to her family doctor. “They said it was just back stress,” Judy states.
Eventually, though, the pain began to affect her quality of life. “Back pain can bring you to your knees,” she says. “It’s like a bad toothache that gets worse and worse. I’m pretty tough, but back pain is excruciating. You have no idea how bad it can be unless you’ve suffered back pain yourself.”
Judy is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, back pain in one of the top ten reasons that Americans seek medical treatment. Many, though, put off visiting the doctor because of the fear of surgery.
“I didn’t want to go near a hospital or talk about surgery,” Judy says. “Just the thought of that scared me. What if it made it worse?”
But when the pain didn’t go away, Judy knew she had to get help.
Eventually, she found Dr. Jimmy Cui of Skagit Island Orthopedics. Dr. Cui is a specialist in physiatry, a branch of medicine that focuses in managing pain and restoring function without surgery. When Dr. Cui first met with Judy, he explained that she was not alone in suffering back pain. Many others had similar conditions and had found relief.
“Pain can be very complicated,” says Dr. Cui. “I spend a lot of time with each patient to help them understand their condition and different treatment options. Many conditions can be managed without surgery. My goal is to minimize pain and improve function through minimally invasive techniques.”
Dr. Cui told Judy about a back pain management treatment that involves epidural steroid injections. A steroid is injected directly into the affected area, which reduces swelling, relieves pressure and provides pain relief.
Judy was eager to try the treatment. “I practically had to crawl down to his office for the procedure,” she says. “I was in so much pain at that time.”
Epidural steroid injections are performed in an outpatient surgical center. “I laid face down on the procedure table, and they got me all prepped,” says Judy. “They put a local anesthetic in my back so that I wouldn’t feel the injection. Dr. Cui used an x-ray machine to locate the perfect spot for the injection. Then he injected the medication very slowly into my spine. That was it!”
Gradually, Judy’s pain began to decrease. Two weeks later, the severe pain was completely gone. “I’m in discomfort occasionally,” says Judy, “but it’s nothing I can’t manage. When the pain comes back, I can go back for another injection, up to two per year.”
The injections have managed Judy’s back pain now for the past six years. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” she says. “This works for me. Dr. Cui is exceptional. I don’t even think he realizes what he does for his patients. I’ll always be grateful to him.”