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April 3, 2005 - Sports

Those who have spent a lot of time with Mike Martz since he became Rams head coach know that few days have passed without Martz experiencing some kind of back pain.

"I can't remember when it wasn't bothering me, but it's just been in varying degrees," Martz said Thursday.

Martz suffered a back injury while returning a punt playing high school football in San Diego. He ended up with a bulging disc, something that has been a problem since.

"The last two years, it's really been substantial," Martz said. "The last three months have been pretty bad. It had gone to an extent where I just couldn't stand it anymore."

So that's when Martz decided to contact Los Angeles neurosurgeon Carl Lauryssen. Lauryssen performed neck surgery on Martz five years ago.

Less than three weeks ago, just before Orlando Pace signed his multiyear contract, Martz went to Los Angeles for back surgery.

"The traditional surgical treatment for someone with back pain that is unresponsive to medical treatment is a fusion," Lauryssen said Friday in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "A fusion basically is where you take the disc out, and where the disc used to be, you put in a block of bone. And then the one vertebra grows through this block of bone to the other vertebra, and it becomes a fusion."

But Martz underwent a much more complex and much newer form of back surgery: He had a replacement disc implanted in his lower back.

The disc consists of two parts of metal (cobalt chrome), with high-tech plastic between the metal.

"The disc is like the shock absorber in between each block of bone, or vertebrae," Lauryssen said. "The disadvantage of a fusion is that it takes away movement."

In essence, the fusion procedure is taking away a disc.

According to Lauryssen, it takes about six months for a successful fusion to occur. But with the new artificial-disc surgery, the recovery time is six weeks to four months.

Over the long term, it is thought that artificial-disc surgery will lead to less stress on adjacent discs than fusion surgery.

Martz underwent surgery on March 17 and was hospitalized for about a week, missing the NFL owners' meetings in Hawaii. But the day he was discharged, he had dinner with Lauryssen. Martz returned to St. Louis on March 29 and went right to work.

He met with free-agent pickup Jay Williams, a defensive end, on March 30, and attended parts of Leonard Little's drunken-driving trial on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Martz is still experiencing some lower-back soreness, discomfort that increases as the day goes on.

"But each day it gets remarkably better," Martz said. "I'm getting better rest. Each day I'm making huge strides.

"To walk and feel loose, I don't remember having that. I don't remember feeling that good in the upper back, my shoulders. For years, if my lower back hurt, everything just tensed up."

Martz actually had two surgeries in one in Los Angeles. In addition to the replacement disc procedure, Martz also underwent surgery for an abdominal hernia.

The hernia probably contributed to Martz's back problems, because of the lack of strength in his stomach muscles.

"He couldn't keep the abs in shape because he had a hernia," Lauryssen said. "He tried, but he just couldn't get his abs into the shape that he wanted to."

Martz may never have six-pack abs. But he's already shed some pounds. His rehab consists of walking every day. "At least one mile," Martz said. "And then I work on the treadmill on an incline. I've probably lost about 15 pounds. I'd like to lose another 20."

Assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt minded the store at Rams Park during Martz's absence, and kept Martz abreast of developments. President of football operations Jay Zygmunt presided at the Pace press conference in Martz's absence.

So it's not as if Martz feels hopelessly behind on his football work. Although he did concede Thursday: "I'm a little bit behind on the draft."

Mike Martz - RAMS Head Coach

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