In early 2022, Cedric Mays was laid low by debilitating, excruciating back and leg pain. The Menomonee Falls resident could barely stand up, much less go to a gym to play basketball, his favorite sport.

But thanks to a noninvasive outpatient procedure to aspirate a cyst within the spine in his lower back, coupled with a customized physical therapy program, Cedric now is shooting baskets again — and eyeing a return to playing pickup games like he used to do.

“I feel good,” said the 61-year-old retiree. “I’ve been swimming every day for the last several weeks. But my next real test is getting back on the basketball court.”

Severe Pain Debilitates Everyday Tasks 

Over the course of several months, playing hoops was unthinkable as the pain in Cedric’s left lower back and left leg, combined with numbness and tingling in his toes, worsened. The pain became so severe that he needed a wheelchair to get around for a short time.

“I tried physical therapy, but that just wasn’t cutting it,” Cedric said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 10. I used to think going to the dentist for a root canal was bad, but this pain was like no other. It was unbelievable.”

Cedric discussed his symptoms with his daughter, Brittany, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and Medical College of Wisconsin alumna. Concerned her dad may have a pinched nerve, Brittany consulted her mentor at MCW, Merle Orr, MD, who suggested Cedric see Bindiya Shah, DO, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and MCW faculty member.

Synovial Cyst Causes Nerve Damage

In summer 2022, Cedric saw Dr. Shah at SpineCare at the Froedtert & MCW Tosa Health Center in Wauwatosa.

“A prior electromyography study, which measures nerve function, showed the pain was caused by a pinched nerve,” Dr. Shah said. “But the test didn’t show what was causing the pinched nerve. An MRI revealed a lumbar synovial cyst pressing on a nerve. If not treated, it can cause ongoing nerve damage and further neurological compromise.”

Synovial cysts can occur naturally with age due to degeneration of joints. These cysts are fairly common and can be treated conservatively if they are not causing debilitating pain or neurological symptoms.

Since that wasn’t the case with Cedric, Dr. Shah recommended a procedure to drain the cyst, followed by a steroid injection to calm down the inflamed nerve. Heather Curtiss, MD, MS, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and MCW faculty member, performed both procedures at SpineCare. Cedric received a local anesthetic.

“I wanted the least invasive option possible,” Cedric said. “I didn’t want to do anything too crazy. This treatment plan worked great — I never felt a thing and received pain relief right out of the gate.”

Motivated to Recover Through Physical Therapy

Cedric then embarked on a physical therapy program developed by Craig Schneider, DPT, at the Tosa Health Center. The program initially concentrated on restoring range of motion and normalizing Cedric’s gait and overall body mechanics, as well as stretching exercises designed to increase the space around where the inflamed nerve exited his spinal cord.

“We want that nerve to glide without any restrictions,” Schneider said. “We also worked to increase strength in his core, lower back, glutes and ankle.”

Schneider saw Cedric seven times at the clinic over several months. Cedric did exercises at home in between visits.

“Cedric was motivated to recover,” Schneider said. “He wanted to play basketball again. He was a great patient.”

“The nice thing about the program was that I could do so much of the physical therapy at home,” Cedric said. “I worked hard because I refuse to not be in good shape.”

The Benefit of a Team of Spine Specialists

Dr. Shah said Cedric’s case underscores one of the primary benefits of receiving care at the Froedtert & MCW health network. Patients are cared for through a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach that positions them for positive outcomes.

“When you come to SpineCare, you can get appropriate care from a variety of specialists,” she said. “It’s a great benefit to have access to all these different doctors and clinicians in various disciplines all in one place. We can provide treatments in a very effcient and effective way because everyone can collaborate easily.”

Cedric agrees wholeheartedly.

“I worked with an amazing team,” he said. “The professionalism was top-notch. Everyone listened and was in tune with the things I was sharing and receptive to things I thought would be helpful during my path to recovery. I was very impressed with my care.”

Froedtert & MCW SpineCare locations are in Menomonee Falls and Wauwatosa. SpineCare’s team of experts provides comprehensive spine care for common and complex conditions. Call 414-955-7199 for an appointment. To learn more, visit