Tiger Woods’ legendary golf career has been defined by incredible highs and lows. But, with his recent 2019 Masters Tournament win and his first major championship win in 11 years, he has completed an improbable, stunning comeback – one of the best in all of sports history. Anyone who watched Woods drop to his knees from a back spasm at The Barclays in 2013 understands the immense pain that has long plagued the 15-time major champion.
In 2017, Woods underwent his fourth spine surgery in fewer than three years – that’s on top of four previous knee procedures and a nagging Achilles tendon ailment. Almost 2 years ago to the day of Masters Sunday, he received a minimally invasive Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) to relieve his chronic back spasms and the sciatic pain in his legs.
“Instability in the back can occur due to a number of conditions, including herniated discs, degenerated discs, spine fractures and more”, says Dr. Chetan Patel, medical director of AdventHealth Medical Group Spine Health. The goal of a fusion procedure is to provide stability to the spine and reduce the consistent, painful symptoms.
During an ALIF procedure, surgeons remove a large portion of degenerated disc that is causing back pain and replace it with a bone graft. “One thing that makes this procedure unique and tailor-made for golfers is how the spine is accessed. ALIF procedures provide great results with minimal scarring because the spine is approached through the front of the body, leaving the back muscles and nerves untouched”, explains Dr. Patel. The result is smaller incisions, less interference with surrounding muscles and tissue, and shorter recovery times.
The saga of Woods back injuries began in 2010, when he first revealed his struggle with cervical pain and bulging discs. In 2014, he withdrew from tournaments due to lower back spasms and later had a microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve. He continued to miss key tournaments before undergoing a second microdiscectomy to remove a disc fragment in September 2015 only to be followed by a third procedure the very next month to relieve more discomfort.
These ailments led many to wonder whether Woods would ever pick up a club again. But, with a seemingly successful ALIF surgery under his belt, an intensive focus on rehab and a fifth green jacket, Woods has proven he's still one of the greatest to ever play the game.
For Dr. Patel, Woods’ success isn't a huge surprise. “Outcomes from this procedure are very good when accompanied with a proper recovery time and physical therapy. And Woods makes an ideal patient with his athletic physical condition and his limitless motivation”, he says. “However, Woods ability to go from pain-free post-operatively to the highest levels of athletic achievement are extraordinary.” Typically, after an approximately six-month recuperation period, patients must practice proper bending, lifting and twisting techniques before they can even safely return to the course.
It’s not uncommon for golfers of every skill level to grit their teeth through recurrent back pain. Research by the Titleist Performance Institute shows that lower back pain is the most prevalent ailment among golfers by a long shot. That’s because the twisting motions of a golf swing can overwork the lumbar spine, forcing it to carry excessive loads. Resulting injuries can include game-ending disc ruptures, bone fractures and degenerative arthritis.
AdventHealth’s Golf Fore Life program was created to help players of all ages perfect their game and protect their spine. With the expertise of Titleist Performance Institute-certified specialists, the Golf Fore Life team will assess your stance, help improve your technique and create an individualized golf fitness program to keep you in good spine health, on and off the course. Because unlike Tiger Woods, not every player has nine lives.
If you're interested in joining AdventHealth’s Golf Fore Life program or would like more information on our comprehensive treatment options for back pain, call the AdventHealth Medical Spine Health practice at Call407-303-5452.