It was January 2006. At first he tried to practice lightly, hoping it would go away, he says. “It never did.”
So he sought medical help. The first diagnosis was tendonitis and he tried physical therapy. That didn’t help. Over the next months he tried cortisone shots, physical therapy and rest. He even had his left thumb immobilized in a cast for two months, but nothing alleviated the pain. “I stopped playing. If I played for longer than 10 or 15 minutes, the pain would come. I was very limited. I couldn’t play. There was no option. It wasn’t going to get better and my piano career was over,” he says, describing how devastating it was to lose his dream and everything he’d spent so many years working toward. Even worse, he couldn’t play for his own personal enjoyment because it was too painful.
“In music you throw your eggs in one basket and if it doesn’t work out it can be tough,” he says, “I didn’t play piano about 3 years. I couldn’t play piano,” he says. “I couldn’t even listen to classical music for at least a month or two. When you devote yourself to one thing and get really good at it and you lose that thing, you’re self esteem takes a huge hit. That was the worst part about it.”
So Johnson moved back to Spokane and reassessed his future, eventually deciding to take the required classes to apply to medical school. He was especially interested in rehabilitative medicine because of his experience and decided to try to get some extra exposure by shadowing doctors. That led him to Dr. Goodman at St. Luke’s Physiatry Practice at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.
“He’s an expert on musculoskeletal pain. I thought, ‘that’s cool.’ I’d go in and follow him for a few days.”
When Dr. Goodman explained what he does with Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) therapy, Johnson says he was very interested.
“I watched him treat people for two days and definitely some of them were getting better,” he says. That’s when Johnson worked up the courage to ask if the treatment might help his hands.
When Dr. Goodman took a look, inserting a thin, flexible needle into Johnson’s thumb, it cramped pretty hard, says Johnson. “He said, ‘you are going to get better,’ and sure enough I did.”
After a month of treatments, Johnson says he started playing the piano a little, the first time in three years. Now, after about 20 treatments, he says “I’m about 90 percent healthy. I can play the piano an hour a day.”
While Johnson is now in medical school and doesn’t plan to pursue a professional musical career, he is grateful to be making music again. “I can play an hour a day. It’s enough for me. It is an absolute godsend kind of treatment. I never thought I would be able to play. To have it again, everyday I’m so thrilled to get to play again.”
While IMS treatments are painful at first, Johnson says the discomfort eases over time and is well worth it. “I had watched Dr. Goodman treat about a dozen people with this. I had seen their reactions, and knew what I was getting into. It did definitely hurt,” he says, adding that with each treatment he was less sensitive. “Within a few hours most of pain is gone. Then it feels like a really long workout. After about 24 hours or so it feels like you were never hurt. I feel like I could sit down and play forever.”
But IMS didn’t just help Johnson’s hands.
About a year after he quit playing the piano, Johnson said he developed pain in his hips. Again, he tried physical therapy but nothing worked and he was unable to exercise like he had before. When the IMS therapy worked on his hands, he asked about the hips. “He started treating that too. Sure enough, I got better. Now I can exercise again. He healed me from two injuries. Nothing worked except for IMS.”
“IMS impacted my life by giving me the joy back in my life,” says Johnson. “I feel great every time I work out, or sit down to the piano. They were inseparable from my life and they were taken away from me. IMS gave me those things back. I run everyday. I’m healthy. I’m fit. I’m on the piano so I’m in good spirits.”
Now in his first year of medical school at Baylor College of Medicine, Johnson says he will wait to decide on a medical specialty but he definitely plans to learn how to perform IMS. “I want to use this on other people. If I can give other people what Dr. Goodman gave to me, that would make me very satisfied with my life.”