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Leaders in Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

On Tiger Woods and the Snowball Effect of Spine Problems

Unaddressed injuries in one part of the body can put the health of other body parts at risk.

The inspirational story of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win was splashed across the front pages of many a news website recently. Sure it was his fifth time winning the title, but the last win was more than a decade ago, and this one came on the heels of multiple back and knee injuries that ultimately resulted in four spine and four knee surgeries over a more than 20 year period. This win shocked fantasy golf aficionados across the globe. Whether or not you’re a professional golf superstar, there is quite a bit we can learn from Mr. Woods’ injury history.

First, it’s essential to understand that Tiger Woods’ injuries weren’t because he was simply ‘getting older.’ Though he is in his early 40s now, his first surgical procedure dates all the way back to 1994, when he was under 20 years old. That surgery was on his left knee and intended to eliminate scar tissue and benign tumors. A multitude of injuries to both knees and 3 more surgeries to his left knee would follow in the ensuing years. By 2010, however, Mr. Woods withdrew from the final round of The Players Championship due to severe back pain and resulting numbness and tingling on his right side. The diagnosis – a bulging disc. Especially as the injury relates to golfers, a bulging disc can be a common problem in the lower or lumbar spine. When that bulging occurs, it can press on the nerve causing pain, numbness, and tingling.

Mr. Woods would endure years of back and neck pain, resulting in numbness and tingling as well as back spasms – tragically caught on video and film for the world to see as so many watched him try his best to play through the pain, literally. By 2014 however, the associated symptoms as a result of the bulging disc would become too much to bear, and Tiger Woods would undergo a first surgical spine procedure and then a second, called microdiscectomy.

Microdiscectomy surgery is a reasonably straightforward procedure done through a microscope wherein the surgeon enters the spine with a probe and effectively clears away the bulging disc material that is pressing on the nerve and causing the back pain.

But by 2015, Mr. Woods was on to his third spine surgery and in 2017, he underwent a fourth and the most significant spine operation he’d had to date – a spinal fusion. The exact procedure is called an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure, ALIF for short. This surgery involves removal of damaged spinal disc material and restoring the space in the disc to normal levels so that the spinal vertebrae can be “fused” together to eliminate the abnormal movement that is causing back pain and other symptoms.

Where does this spine injury cascade effect come in and how could problems with Tiger Woods’ knees have caused or contributed to his spine issues? Well, all of our body parts are intricately interconnected. The spine and the knees are responsible for some significant mechanical processes in the body – walking, pivoting, twisting and more – so when one part is out of whack, it places undue strain, stress and pressure on the other. This could be due to genetic degenerative conditions, overuse or several other causes.

While Tiger Woods’ story is one of seemingly impossible comeback that will be celebrated in sports history for years to come, it also serves as an essential reminder to have any pain, disability, instability or other symptoms you might be experiencing checked by a qualified health care provider. Stopping knee injuries, for example, from eventually cascading into catastrophic spine injuries is something most everyone can agree is a wise decision. So if that hitch in your knee is throwing off your balance or gait, best to have it looked at. You could save yourself a host of other health problems by addressing it sooner rather than later.

Sources: https://www.golfchannel.com/video/dr-ara-explains-tiger-woods-back-surgery

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/tiger-woods-historic-return-8-knee-back-surgeries-n995036?cid=par-twitter-feed_20190416

Neel Anand, M.D., Contributor

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