Maria C Chronic Pain No More - Maria's Story

“My neck doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s amazing, because I had resigned myself to always having chronic pain.”

Patients who thought their pain would never end find relief with spine surgery.

The spine is a marvel of anatomy, with an intricate mix of stacked bones called vertebrae, disks between them for cushioning, and a tunnel-like spinal column that allows the spinal cord and nerves to run through the backbone.

When problems arise in the spine, conditions that result can be both painful and debilitating—but also complex, requiring a multidisciplinary approach to care.

Jason Cohen
Jason Cohen, MD

That’s why the Spine Center at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) has a team of skilled surgeons well versed in both orthopedics and neurology who handle a wide range of cases involving the back and neck.

“We’re capable of offering patients the full gamut of spine care, from conservative to surgical treatments, right here in Monmouth County,” says Jason Cohen, MD, Chair of Orthopedic Surgery at MMC. “We have a stateof- the-art facility and tools, and all of our providers are fellowship-trained at leading institutions across the country. We also have residency training programs, so we’re teaching young physicians what we do.”

The hospital offers both traditional and minimally invasive surgeries, including computer-guided procedures that help minimize complications and often provide better outcomes for patients.

Jonathan Lustgarten, MD
Jonathan Lustgarten, MD

“It’s a very robust service,” says Jonathan Lustgarten, MD, Chief of Neurosurgery at MMC. “Both orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery cover a broad spectrum of common spine problems, and both are characterized by a high degree of innovation. In fact, the neurosurgical spine service at MMC introduced New Jersey’s first intraoperative CT scan computer navigation system for minimally invasive spine surgery and has the most extensive experience in the state with this technology.”

Patients often appreciate not having to travel to New York or Philadelphia for procedures. “We offer the same care, if not better, with more one-to-one interactions with our patients,” Dr. Cohen says. These two patients say they benefited from such advanced, personalized care for different types of problems.

Damage and Degeneration

Maria Caputo’s neck had bothered her ever since her car was rear-ended on the New Jersey Turnpike more than 20 years ago.

“I had chronic pain every day, and I just dealt with it by trying different pain management techniques,” says Caputo, 50, who lives in Rumson and works as Director of Government Relations at MMC. Approaches she sought for relief included physical therapy, epidural injections, trigger point injections, chiropractic, acupuncture, back massagers and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. None of them fully resolved her pain.

In fall 2021, the pain finally became too much. She consulted Dr. Cohen, who ordered an MRI scan. It revealed she had four collapsed disks in her spine along with bone degeneration from arthritis.

Caputo had been putting off surgery. Now she felt she was out of options. She scheduled a procedure to remove the damaged disks and ease pressure on her spinal cord, then build her spine back with an implant filled with bone graft to fuse the spine together.

After undergoing the procedure in January 2022 at MMC, she underwent physical therapy for a few months to regain movement and strength.

Today, Caputo feels fabulous. “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore,” she says. “It’s amazing, because I had resigned myself to always having chronic pain.”

Spine Problems That Surgery Can Address

Vertebrae, joints, disks, nerves—the sheer complexity of the spine combined with the stresses placed on it provide ample opportunity for problems to develop. Some of the most common that may warrant surgery include:

  • Herniated Disks: squeezing of soft material from disks into surrounding tissue
  • Spine Degeneration: a loss of structure or function
  • Spinal Stenosis: a narrowing of spaces in the spine that can place pressure on nerves
  • Scoliosis: a sideward curving of the spine
  • Fracture: a break or crack in a vertebral bone
  • Tumors: growths, possibly cancerous, that may spread
  • Infection: bacterial or fungal growth that can cause pain

Learn more about the Spine Center at Monmouth Medical Center or to make an appointment, call 732-923-7666.