Jessica’s Story: From Back Pain to Back in Action

If you have back pain, you understand.

It’s a certain kind of misery that affects everything you do. It decides what you can and can’t do. Where you can and can’t go.

“It got to the point where bending down to do dishes or carrying the laundry basket was enough to knock me off my feet. The pain was constant, just stifling,” Jessica Weecks, a Kingsford native, explains.

Sometimes, the pain gets to be too much to handle. And a lot of the time, there is something you can do about it.

Jessica was just 34 at the time she felt her back starting to hurt at work. It continued to get worse, radiating down her leg.

She underwent physical therapy, tried to reduce her stress, bought an ergonomic chair, and searched online for home remedies. Nothing seemed to take the nagging pain away.

After suffering for four years, she hit a breaking point. Jessica twisted around to grab a paper out of a filing cabinet at work: a simple, daily task that she needed to be able to do, but couldn’t, because of the excruciating pain.

That’s when she knew she needed to take action. The pain was too much to handle any longer.

Jessica asked around, did some research, talked to friends. She decided to make an appointment with Dr. Coccia, neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at UP Health System – Marquette.

Jessica had her back scanned per her primary care provider’s direction. Dr. Coccia reviewed the imagery.

“I really liked that he took the time to look at my case before the appointment. He knew that he could help me, and how to help me, before we even met.”

Jessica was nervous for her first appointment, not knowing exactly what to expect, but was relieved. “Dr. Coccia put me right at ease. He listened. He gave me time to ask questions. He told me I could call, any time, if I thought of questions later. And he explained my options really clearly, and the potential risks with each approach.”

From reviewing the imagery of Jessica’s spine, Dr. Coccia saw a herniated disc at L5/S1.

“Once I knew what the cause of all this pain was, it all started making more sense to me. I could put a name to the pain I was having, and I knew there was a solution in sight” Jessica said.

When a spinal disc ruptures, it can put pressure on sensitive nerves in the back. In Jessica’s case, the disc was pinching her sciatic nerve, which runs down the legs and can cause severe pain in the back, buttock, thigh, and foot.

She thought about her options. Would she pursue surgery? She had been suffering for so long, she was ready to give it a try.

She met with Dr. Coccia once more before scheduling the operation.

“Dr. Coccia explained what he would do. It was a discectomy, and a fusion of two discs. There would be some recovery time, but I was ready for it.”

The surgery went smoothly.

“I knew the recovery would be a little challenging, because I’m so active. It was about six months until I was back in full swing. But I was walking within a few days after surgery, slowly. I was prepared for it, and Dr. Coccia talked me through what the recovery would be like.”

And now? “I’m pain free. My life is back. It’s incredible,” Jessica said.

Jessica says she would “absolutely recommend Dr. Coccia” to “anyone experiencing severe back pain.”

It’s important to find out the cause of the pain, and then seek the appropriate treatment. The surgical route isn’t always the best option for everyone. A number of complex issues can cause back pain.

But, for Jessica, the surgery meant a new lease on life. She’s back to walking, enjoying nature, biking, and she has even picked up cross-country skiing since the surgery in 2014.

Dr. Craig Coccia is a neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at the UP Health System – Marquette Brain & Spine Center.

Dr. Coccia explains, “Three out of four patients won’t need surgery for a herniated disc. It can often heal on its own. But some cases are more severe. We really have three options for a herniated disc. That’s one: give it time and see if it gets better, two: a series of epidural steroid injections at the nerve site to relieve pain, and three: surgery. It depends on the severity of the pain and the idiosyncrasies of the injury. But in a situation like this, ultimately, the patient has a lot of power in choosing what steps they want to take.”

But what caused the disc to rupture? Dr. Coccia explains, “We don’t always know what happens. Often there is an injury that we can pinpoint. But it can be normal wear and tear on the body. All of a sudden, you move or twist a certain way, and it goes.”

“The pain was truly awful. If you’re in too much pain to handle, I think it’s definitely worth looking at your options. I really have my life back, now, thanks to Dr. Coccia,” Jessica said.

And beyond her experience at the UP Health System – Marquette Brain & Spine Center, Jessica said “All of the staff, the nurses, everyone was so kind, so supportive. They’re truly the best.”


If you are experiencing severe back pain, a healthcare provider can refer you to the UP Health System – Marquette Brain & Spine Center. To find a doctor near you or make an appointment, call 1.844.411.8747.

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