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Back to the Slopes: Spine Surgery Ends Decades of Pain for Sports Enthusiast

By |2024-05-10T08:13:20-04:00January 18th, 2022|Categories: Health A-Z, Neuroscience, Physical Therapy|Tags: , , , , |

Andrew Ferrara was a three-sport high school athlete when he suffered a football injury that permanently sidelined his athletic career. He herniated two discs in his back as a teen. At the time, the surgery to repair it was risky. So instead, he wore a brace to stabilize his back and gave up sports—and the lifestyle that came with it.

“It was a traumatic experience,” recalls the Millstone resident, now 56. “Playing sports was my life.” Andrew was plagued by agonizing, nearly debilitating back pain throughout the next few decades. Despite the pain, he launched a roofing business and worked through his discomfort. He tried a variety of treatments to alleviate the pain over the years, including massages, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Andrew found that stretching often and walking backward on a treadmill helped most, but the relief was fleeting.

Then, about two years ago, the pain was so excruciating that Andrew had trouble walking and couldn’t sleep. That’s when he decided he needed a permanent solution for the pain.

A Surgical Solution

Andrew’s chiropractor referred him to neurosurgeons Mark McLaughlin, MD, and Nirav K. Shah, MD, FAANS, FACS. Imaging scans revealed degenerative changes in Andrew’s spine and a left-sided disc herniation. These conditions were causing low back pain, sciatic nerve pain, and most alarmingly, weakness in his left foot, the sign of a serious nerve issue. He was told he needed surgery immediately.

“I was originally against having surgery because it meant I had to give up control, but talking to Dr. McLaughlin and Dr. Shah made me feel more at ease,” says Andrew.

“We now have the tools and technology to address issues like Andrew’s,” explains Dr. McLaughlin. “For appropriately selected patients, outcomes for spine surgery are better than ever.”

In May 2021, Dr. McLaughlin decompressed Andrew’s spine by removing debris around the nerve and using screws and rods to stabilize the vertebrae in his lower lumbar area. Andrew went home four days after surgery and started physical therapy at CentraState’s OceanFirst Rehabilitation Center about four months later. He’s hoping to hit the ski slopes this winter, and get back to golfing this spring.

“I had no quality of life left,” Andrew says. “Now I’m in zero pain. It’s almost overwhelming to be able to enjoy my life again. I haven’t felt this good in 40 years—I’m the happiest guy in the world.”

Learn more about surgery services at CentraState at or 866-CENTRA7 (866-236-8727).

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