On March 31, 2014, Tiger Woods underwent a microdiscectomy for a herniated disc in his lumbar spine, effectively ending his golf season for three months.
A microdiscectomy is the ‘gold standard’ procedure for eliminating a herniated disk. The success rate of the surgery is between 95-98%. The surgery creates a small incision in the back, with minimal tissue or muscle destruction. Sometimes a small amount of bone is removed to facilitate the removal of disk. The point of the surgery is to remove the disk fragment to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
Dr. Charles Rich performed the surgery in Park City, Utah. Dr. Rich expects “Intensive rehabilitation and soft tissue treatment” will begin within a week. Woods may return to golf sometime this summer if all goes well with his rehab.
While obviously painful and disappointing for Mr. Woods, he should be able to return to golf within three months. Although a herniated disc is a painful condition, it is rarely serious and most athletes can return to play after rehab.
The intervertebral disc provides cushioning between two spinal bones. When the disk herniates it can cause severe, debilitating back and leg pain by pressing on a spinal nerve. In the low back, such as in Woods’ case, it is known as sciatica.
Non-operative treatment consists of anti-inflammatories, physical therapy and/or epidural injections. Non-surgical options, while effective at producing results, can take months, something Tiger Woods does not have. Furthermore, the most recent data found in the SPORT Trial (Spine Patients Outcome Research Trail) show surgery for disc herniation is more effective than non-operative treatment at 8 years post surgery.
Postoperative treatment includes rest, physical therapy, and core strengthening. Many studies show the average patient can return to work without restriction after three weeks. Given the fact that Tiger Woods is the number one golfer in the world and generates a significant amount of torque through his lumbar spine, he should be restricted for approximately three months in order allow the incision to heal and the nerve to recover.
Whether or not Mr. Woods can return for the Open Championship in late July at Royal Liverpool is the great unknown. Though he may be cleared medically to return to play, functioning at championship level is another. This will depend on his recovery, his postoperative pain level and his degree of nerve injury.
Fortunately for Tiger Woods, time will allow him to return to golf—the more time in recovery the better he will function. Unfortunately for the golf fan we may have yet another season without Tiger Woods.
Dr. Banco is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopaedic spinal surgeon. He attended medical school at Jefferson Medical College followed by an orthopaedic surgery residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, both in Philadelphia. Dr. Banco performed his spinal fellowship at The New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, MA.