Spinal Care, Close to Home 

Back pain is not uncommon for someone reaching middle-age, but 46-year-old Michigan Technological University Professor Erik Herbert became convinced last fall that his condition had to be addressed surgically.

Erik came to MTU in Houghton from Tennessee in June, 2015. He is a professor at MTU’s Materials Science and Engineering Department. He’d been undergoing conservative treatment in Tennessee for back pain, including physical therapy and steroid therapy, since November of 2014.

“My back pain returned with a vengeance last August,” he explains. “There was intense back pain and limited mobility. The pain migrated to my left leg and my foot would go numb. I had to concentrate on walking up steps without tripping.”

Diagnosed with lumbar disk herniation, surgery was recommended last fall.  Having relocated to the Copper Country only a few months earlier, Erik was new to exploring spine treatment options in the Upper Peninsula.

“Some people said that if I was considering serious surgery, I should look outside the U.P. toward Green Bay or Minnesota. However, the spouse of a close colleague, who works in the medical profession, turned me on to Dr. (Craig) Coccia’s office. So I figured it was worth meeting with Dr. Coccia and hearing what he had to say.”

Dr. Coccia is Medical Director of the UP Health System Brain and Spine Center. He is board certified in neurosurgery and fellowship-trained in spine surgery. Dr. Coccia recommended discectomy surgery after examining Erik and studying his MRI results.

Erik’s spine surgery was performed by Dr. Coccia in late November.

Dr. Coccia explains, “Erik suffered from a herniated or ruptured disk, which pinched a nerve in his back, causing his leg pain.  This type of pressure on the nerve causes ‘sciatica,’ or nerve pain in the leg. Surgery involves an outpatient procedure, during which the ruptured portion of the disk is removed, un-pinching the nerve.”

According to Erik, “Dr. Coccia had an extremely strong command of all the medical issues that were related to my back. He looked at the MRI and started telling me about pain chronology. He explained what I could expect to happened and he just nailed it.”

Erik described his post-surgical recovery as “slow but steady progress, exactly as Dr. Coccia outlined.” By mid-winter Erik was walking the mile each way to and from work.  He is planning to get back into biking this summer and excited about exploring the “fat tire” year-round biking opportunities in the Copper Country.

He is happy he chose to remain in the Upper Peninsula for his back surgery, saying, “I’ve known a bunch of surgeons over the years and Dr. Coccia is the real deal.”


For more information on Brain & Spine services, click here, or call (906) 225-4840.