Tiger Woods underwent a back fusion operation earlier this week in hopes of alleviating the consistent back pain that has kept him from remaining competitive on the professional golf circuit.
“The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain,” said the 14-time major winner. “When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.”
Fourth Spine Surgery
This is the fourth operation that Woods has undergone on his spine in a little more than three years. Back in March of 2014, Woods underwent a microdiscectomy operation to relieve an issue caused by disc pain. The initial surgery didn’t take care of his pain, and he underwent a second microdisectomy operation in September of 2015. A month later, Woods announced that he underwent a third back operation to “relieve discomfort” in the area.
This operation was “something dramatically different than he’s done in the past,” said Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg. Woods announced that the most recent operation was an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, and the goal of the operation was to quiet frequent back spasms that had been giving Tiger trouble.
Dr. Richard Guyer was the surgeon who performed the operation, and he said the procedure was a success. He said that Tiger will “gradually begin his rehabilitation, and once that’s accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.”
Surgery Recovery and Timetable To Return
Woods said that he underwent the surgical operation because one of his discs had become very narrow due to previous disc herniations and subsequent surgeries. The narrowing of the disc was causing painful back spasms, and although Woods said he tried rest, medication and physical therapy, nothing was able to calm the discomfort. The only permanent fix was to have the disc addressed by the laparoscopic procedure.
During a minimally invasive anterior lumbar interbody fusion, the surgeon creates small openings in the back to access the problemed disc. The damaged disc is removed and the collapsed disc space is re-elevated to normal heights before fusing them in place. Through this process, area nerves are decompressed and the nerves that were causing the pain sensations or spasms are given room to heal.
“[When the disc is touching the nerve], that’s when you go into these intense spasms that I don’t know how he was living with,” said Woods’ agent. “What we’re learning is a fusion is something that you do after you’ve tried just about everything else. He could have continued trying some of the other procedures. But with the knowledge Tiger got, this fusion was the path to the proper recovery that will allow him to do the things he wants to do.”
Dr. Guyer did not share a timetable for Woods’ return, but Woods announced on his website that he would rest for six weeks. When it comes to anterior lumbar interbody fusions, it usually takes about six months for a person to return to full activity. Considering his age and the fact that he’s hoping to return to the professional golf circuit, that timeline could be even longer for Woods. At best, he’s looking at a late-October return to professional golf, but given his track record, that seems unlikely.