It’s been a long time since Tiger Woods has missed playing a Masters Golf Tournament – back to 1995. However, he won’t be playing in the 2014 edition of one of professional golf’s biggest tournaments due to recent back surgery. Some feel he may never return to the form which enabled him to win his first Masters in 1997.
Since Texas Back Institute has internationally recognized expertise in this type of back surgery procedure, we asked Dr. Jack Zigler and Dr. Scott Blumenthal for their insights into the causes and effects of Tiger Woods’ back ailment and the surgery which will keep him away from the lush fairways of Augusta National. More on this later.
Woods Announces his Condition on the Web
Woods announced his medical status and subsequent absence from the PGA tour on his website (www.tigerwood.com) on April 1, 2014, and this was no April fool’s day joke. He noted he had undergone a successful microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve which had been hurting him for several months. The surgery was performed in Park City, Utah, by neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Rich.
While the procedure was successful, Woods will be unable to play in the Masters Tournament, instead requiring rest and rehabilitation for the next several weeks. It was clear that this decision had been a painful one for the golfer.
According Woods, “After attempting to get ready for the Masters and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done,” Woods said.
“I’d like to express my disappointment to the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I will not be at the Masters,” Tiger added. “It’s a week that’s very special to me. It also looks like I’ll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.
“I’d also like to thank the fans for their support and concern. It’s very kind and greatly appreciated. This is frustrating, but it’s something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health.”
Medical Analysis from the Experts at Texas Back Institute
The medical procedure which will determine the professional fate of one of golf’s best known players is called a microdiscectomy.
According to Dr. Jack Zigler a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute, “A microdiscectomy is a surgical procedure to relieve pressure on a nerve root by removing a portion of the intervertebral disc that is pressing against it. It is done under magnification so that only minimal manipulation of the nerve and minimal removal of healthy covering tissues are required.”
“The procedure is typically used for a herniated lumbar disc,” he said. “The disc, or shock absorber between the vertebral bones, can develop a weak spot or tear in its outer wall, allowing some of the “jelly” in the center to bulge or extrude, putting pressure on one of the nerve roots running down the leg. This can cause pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling.”
The big question for any Tiger Woods fans concerns his long-term ability to play at the level he has been able to play for almost 20 years. Will this procedure affect the flexibility of that famous Tiger Woods swing?
“The procedure itself does not affect flexibility, Dr. Zigler noted. “However, if the disc has been very damaged by the herniation, it may collapse over time, and that could limit flexibility.”
Professional golf owes much of its popularity, especially among young golfers, to the skills and personality of Tiger Woods. Every tournament organizer, including those at the Masters in Augusta, knows how much excitement Woods adds to an event. For this reason, the length of time he will miss due to rehabilitation is on the minds of many.
According to Dr. Scott Blumenthal, another spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute, “The rehab process begins immediately after surgery with sports specific activities resuming at about 4 to 6 weeks. Tiger’s return to full activities or sports is variable but generally he should be back playing in 2 to 3 months.”
“Because a professional golfer is in better condition, he would typically require less rehabilitation than the average person” Dr. Blumenthal notes. “Professional golfers have strong cores, which are the key muscle groups that protect the disc against recurrent injury,” he said.
Sports talk show hosts love to speculate on the future prospects of professional athletes – especially Tiger Woods. Can Woods, who is 38 years old, come back from this procedure and perform at the high level we’ve all come to expect?
“Tiger Woods is a superbly conditioned, elite athlete, who is in the best condition possible,” notes Dr. Zigler. “Depending on the health of his disc after the herniation is removed and the annulus (wall of the disc) heals, he may easily be able to return to his pre-injury form and play at that level for many years. However, if he has lost a lot of the nucleus (“jelly), and/or the annulus fails to heal well, he will have problems functioning well. After a disc herniation, everyone is at a slightly increased risk of recurrent herniation as well as disc space collapse and arthritis,” he said.
The legions of Tiger Woods fans miss seeing him storm his way to the 18th green at this year’s Masters Golf Tournament. They can only hope that medical technology, combined with his dogged determination to win will have him back at Augusta next year.