A great weekend for Tiger Woods, winning his 15th major title and fifth green jacket. His first title in 11 years. Woods’ struggle has been a pretty public one, as he struggled with back and leg pain. In April of 2017, he announced on his website he had a spine fusion surgery.
It was a long road from the operating table to the masters course. Before Woods chose to undergo an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF), he tried treating the pain with rehabilitaion, medication, epidural steroid injections and more. ESPN spoke to another Masters’ champion, Trevor Immelman about Woods’ career over the last two years.
“After surgeries and everything else that happened, it was the first time I had ever seen him uncertain. It’s a word that I would have never used for Tiger Woods is uncertain. To dig himself back from that moment to here is something that is just so special. Special for our game. This is awesome.”
“Just unreal, to be honest with you,” Woods said.
Woods spoke with reporters following the weekend win.
“Just the whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in ’95 for the first time and being able to play as an amateur. Winning in ’97 and then come full circle 22 years later, to be able to do it again. And just the way it all transpired today.”
The Spine Fusion
Woods’ surgeon, Dr. Richard Guyer, was quoted in a Golf Digest article as saying, “If you are going to have single-level fusion, the bottom level is the best place for it to occur. Some individuals are born with one less vertebra, which would be similar to someone who had a single-level fusion.”
Just like in real estate, fusion success is all about location. The area of the spine where the fusion is performed has significant impact on the patient’s long-term experience. One of the biggest concerns with a fusion is the possible wear and tear of the discs above and below the fused vertebrae. Since Tiger Woods’s fusion is the bottom level, this removes the opportunity for any additional lower-level disc degeneration.
A Minimally Invasive Procedure – An Ideal Surgery for a Golfer
According to Wood’s website, Dr. Guyer performed a minimally invasive Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) at the base of the spine – the L5-S1 vertebral segment, also called the lumbosacral joint.
This procedure is ideal for a golfer, because the surgeon accesses the spine through the abdomen instead of through the lower back, leaving both the back muscles and nerves undisturbed.
Tiger Woods’ Recovery
After a spine fusion, it’s important to rest for several weeks. Minimally Invasive fusions tend to have smaller incisions and avoids most trauma to the muscle tissue around the spine – meaning less pain for the patient – but the body still needs time to heal.
The point of a fusion is to allow an implant and/or bone graft to grow together with the vertebral bone and successfully stabilize the spine. Putting stress on a fusion before it is fully healed can cause the fusion to fail – and potentially lead to another surgery.
The length of a recovery can vary depending on the patient.
A healthy athlete at Tiger’s age can recover from an ALIF in as quickly as three to six months. Woods’ returned to the Masters in 2018, less than a year after his spine fusion.
Golfers Struggling with Lower Back Pain
According to a study done by the Titleist Performance Institute, Lower back pain is by far the most common ailment suffered by golfers of all ages. According to TPI, data collected from over 31,000 golfers showed over 28% of golf players deal with lower back pain after every round. Lower back pain is also the most common complaint seen amongst professional golfers on all tours.
Why? A golfer’s position for a golf swing and the force it takes to hit the ball can overwork the lumbar spine. The discs between each vertebra in the spine, and act as the shock absorbers of the spine. When the discs are overworked, they can tear and the jelly-like insides of the disc is forced out. This is called a herniated disc.
Minimally Invasive Surgical Specialists
At DISC of Louisiana, our Team of uniquely trained surgeons specialize in minimally invasive spinal procedures just like the one Tiger Woods had. When compared to open surgery, our patients experience improved fusion rates, shorter hospital stays and a more active and rapid recovery period.
Make an Appointment
If chronic pain is keeping you off of the golf course, contact DISC of Louisiana today to learn more about your treatment options. DISC of Louisiana has convenient locations throughout the Greater New Orleans area. You can call us at 985-400-5778 or fill out the “Request An Appointment” form below.