Tiger Woods Back Surgery: Spinal Fusion Details

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Tiger Woods missed the last two Masters as he recovered from a back injury. On April 20, 2017 Woods underwent the fourth procedure on his back in a four-year period, but the spinal fusion appears to have alleviated the chronic pain Woods was dealing with prior to the surgery.

“I have no more pain in my lower back,” Woods explained to ESPN’s Marty Smith. “That’s gone. Once they fused it, took out the disc. It’s fused. I am just solid as a rock back there. No pain. The difference is I don’t have the same range of motion. I’m stiffer there.”

What did Woods’ surgery entail? Here’s how The Dallas Morning News explained the procedure.

…a minimally invasive fusion at the L5/S1 vertebral segment at the base of the spine. The surgery entailed removing Woods’ damaged disc and re-elevating the collapsed disc space to normal levels, thus allowing one vertebrae to heal to the other.

Here’s how Web MD describes what a spinal fusion entails, and notes that the doctor can either enter through the patient’s stomach or back.

Spinal fusion is surgery to join two or more vertebrae into one single structure. The goal is to stop movement between the two bones and prevent back pain. Once they’re fused, they no longer move like they used to. This keeps you from stretching nearby nerves, ligaments, and muscles that may have caused discomfort.

Surgeon Richard Guyer explained the positive points of the fusion in Woods’ press release (via The Dallas Morning News).

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 vertebrae, which would be similar to someone who had a single-level fusion.

According to ESPN, Woods had his first back surgery on April 1, 2014 when he had a microdiscectomy to alleviate a pinched nerve. Just over a year later, Woods underwent his second back surgery with another microdiscectomy on September 16, 2015. A little over a month later, Woods had another procedure on October 28, 2015 on the same area to alleviate pain. His latest surgery took place on April 20, 2017, and almost a year later there appears to be no complications.

Woods bigger concern at the time of the surgery was living a normal life as his golf career seemed like a distant memory. Woods admitted to ESPN that there were days he could not walk as he was recovering from the surgery.

“The low periods were for the better part of four to six months that I had to be helped out of bed every day,” Woods told Smith. “There were some days where even if you helped me I couldn’t stand up. I would either fall to the floor, or I would stay in bed. That was a tough part of my life…Coming back and playing golf was never in my thoughts. It was just how do I get away from this pain. How can I live life again?”

His latest surgery allowed him to return to top form on the golf course after it was very much in doubt.

“I used to bring my son out here [to the golf course],” Woods told Smith. “He’d play, and I couldn’t because I couldn’t swing a golf club…I couldn’t do that for the better part of four years.”

In the days leading up to the 2018 Masters, Woods called himself a “walking miracle” with how he has been able to make a comeback on the golf course.

“The reason why I say I’m a walking miracle is that I don’t know of anyone who has had a lower back fusion that can swing the club as fast as I can swing it,” Woods told The Guardian. “That’s incredible. Some guys have said [jokingly]: ‘Yeah, I need to fuse my back so I can hit it harder.’ No, you don’t want to go through that. That’s why I say that. It is a miracle. I went from a person who really had a hard time getting up, walking around, sitting down, anything, to now swinging the club at 129mph. That is a miracle, isn’t it?”

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