Regardless of whether you are a golf fan or not, you know about Tiger Woods. You know about his incredible rise to the top of the golf world, as well as his fall – both from grace and from the top tier of the game.
The whole world found it impossible to tear their attention away from his multiple attempts at a comeback, and from his multiple surgeries, the fourth of which was announced after the fact, in April of 2017. At that point, the best that realistic physicians and fans could expect was pain relief and some return to a decent quality of life following excruciating pain – as far as Tiger was concerned, there was also hope for a return to competitive golf.
Two years later, he proved that the surgery went far beyond anybody’s hopes as he won the Masters. Though initial reports have focused on the sports victory aspect of the story, a closer look presents a remarkable story about the strides that have been made in modern back surgery.
The surgery that Woods had two years ago was an anterior lumbar interbody fusion or ALIF, that fused his L5 and S1 vertebrae. Though some of the details remain unknown, including what the fusion material consisted of, what is apparent is that it provided him with the relief that he needed from the pain of a degenerative disk in his lower spine.
There is nothing new about this procedure: it has been available for decades, but the rate of success in recent years has been remarkable, and it is possible that Woods’ recovery marks not only the pinnacle of his career, but also of the procedure itself.
According to Jack Zigler, president of the International Society for the Advancement of Spinal Surgery, Woods’ success has nearly been “miraculous.” Zigler points out the obvious — that Woods is both motivated and in great physical condition, but also the fact that his needs are far greater than those of most patients: to win the Masters required “an unbelievable level of function.” Other spine surgeons have concluded that golfers’ require greater flexibility than athletes who play any other sport.
Woods road back to health was long and difficult. In addition to his personal problems, his back pain was so bad that at one point he collapsed outside of his home and had to wait to be carried inside. Though he is a celebrity, his problem was the same as that of so many people who experience back pain. He either tore or broke one of the discs – and specifically the disc between the lowest lumbar vertebrae and the highest in the sacrum — that provide cushioning between his vertebrae, and that resulted in pressure on a nerve leading to sciatic pain in his leg.
The surgeon who performed the surgery likely removed the disc that was causing his pain, fused them using some kind of substance – either titanium or high-grade medical plastic — and then injected him with something to promote bone growth. The results were inspiring both to athletes who have been injured and everyday people suffering from disc degeneration or damage.
Though few need the kind of results from lumbar spine surgery that Woods realized, his story should give hope to anybody struggling with debilitating back pain.
For more information on the relief that may be available to you, contact our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey to set up an appointment.