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Racing Away From Pain

Over the years, Brad Schuler got used to a little numbness and pain in his right arm.

Working as an electrician, his job often kept him outside for days, running wires in the bitter cold, spending hours with his hands above his head. But in the summer of 2008, his pain went from an annoyance to something that halted everything in his life.

Picking up tools became torture. And his hobbies, riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle and racing sophisticated radio control vehicles on the weekends, became an exercise in how much pain and ibuprofen his body could tolerate in a day.

“It had been six or seven days without sleeping,” the 44-year-old Sioux Falls man says, rubbing the arm that would constantly tingle. “When your arm feels like someone is sticking a six-inch stiletto in it, it’s hard to do much of anything.”

A new option

When everything he tried failed to provide lasting relief, Brad and his primary care physicians decided to check out the Sanford Anesthesia Pain Center. The comprehensive program, which provides individualized strategies to help manage and reduce pain, helped him find an answer to the throbbing pain that was making it hard to function.

Brad met with the multi-disciplinary team at the pain center, which includes anesthesia rained pain medicine physicians as well as physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, and other specialists work together to diagnose the cause and address the physical and emotional components of pain.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) showed that his problem was cervical spinal stenosis, narrowing of the spinal canal in his neck. The cause was a bulging or herniated disc in his spine, which put pressure on his nerves and caused pain down his arm, referred to as radiculopathy.

Brad, who wanted to avoid surgery if at all possible, talked through all of his options with the pain specialists. They came up with a non-surgical treatment that could ease the pain while he healed.

“They really took the time with me to make sure that I understood everything that was going on,” says Brad. “We talked about what I wanted to do.”

Easing his pain

They decided on a cervical epidural steroid injection, says anesthesiologist Dr. Brady Stocklin. The injection of a steroid solution into Brad’s epidural space was designed to stop the inflammation causing Brad’s pain.

Every patient’s situation is different, requiring a unique approach to pain relief care, the doctor says. Many patients come to Sanford Anesthesia Pain Center after unsuccessful attempts to alleviate their pain with a variety of treatments.

“If a patient continues to struggle with pain despite trying other treatments, we offer a comprehensive evaluation and develop an individualized approach,” says Dr. Stocklin. “We use a full complement of interventional strategies.”

Brad had almost instant relief hours after the injection.

“It was amazing,” says Brad. “I had gotten used to just having to grin and bear it. My routine was throw down three ibuprofens and go. Suddenly it didn’t hurt anymore.”

Two months later he went back in for a follow-up appointment and a second injection. After that, he was pain-free for years. This summer, he started getting a much smaller return of the pain and numbness in his right arm. When his arm started to hurt again, he knew that soon riding his motorcycle and holding the joystick on his radio-controlled cars would become much less fun. “I knew exactly what I needed to do,” Brad says. “Once again, they took the time to figure out exactly what was causing the problem.”

Back on track

Dr. Stocklin gave Brad one more injection and once again his pain was gone. Holding a screwdriver is no longer a painful part of his day. And he can work in his shop, installing new parts on the different types of radio-controlled cars that he regularly races on indoor and outdoor tracks.

“It’s a sickness,” he jokes, holding up one of the cars. “You get hooked and then suddenly you’ve got 10 cars.” Without pain to slow him down, Brad has plans for trips this upcoming summer on the motorcycle. And he’s back to racing without pain. He tells other people that they don’t have to live with constant pain. There are experts at the Sanford Anesthesia Pain Center who can help. “You can do something about this,” says Brad. “You can go as long as you want when you’re living without the pain.”

Posted Date: January 2013