Brain and Spine
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Celebrities with Previous Spinal or Brain Injuries: Tiger Woods

Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are some of the most prominent golf players to ever live.

Tiger Woods, in particular, captivated the professional golfing world in the late 1990s and early 2000s by breaking nearly every record and winning nearly every tournament.

Tiger Woods started playing golf from an early age and rapidly progressed in his career. Woods entered the PGA in 1996 and within a year, at age 21, Woods won the Masters with a record breaking score of 270 and the highest margin of victory ever to become the youngest Masters champion. His success continued until 2009 before he faced personal scandal, which drove his professional career into a downward spiral.

Outside the continuous personal scandals, Tiger Woods’ career has also been marred by injury.

As early as his college days at Stanford, Woods underwent more than one surgery for his knees.

Woods also competed with major injuries at some of his most legendary tournament moments including playing with a torn ACL and stress fractures in his tibia; however, his back injuries have been his most prolonged and influential on the state of his career.

Tiger Woods has undergone a total of four major back surgeries. Woods’ first back surgery was in 2014 and then two more followed in 2015. Although, he underwent two discectomies and a pain alleviating surgery, Woods suffered from ongoing back spasms, debilitating pain and sciatica, which is pain affecting the back, hip, and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back, often owing to degeneration of an intervertebral disk.

Finally, in April 2017, Tiger Woods underwent a spinal fusion surgery for his lower back. He had a spinal fusion at the L5-S1 vertebrae.

Months prior to this surgery, Woods announced he may never play golf again, but less than year after receiving his spinal fusion surgery, Woods returned to the PGA tour.

He even competed in the 2018 Masters tournament.

Spinal fusion back surgeries aim to stop the motion at a painful vertebral segment, which then ideally decreases pain generated from the joint, according to Spine Health.

There are three common approaches to spinal fusion surgeries including:

  1. Adding bone graft to the damaged or painful spine segment
    • Tiger Woods’ spinal surgery adopted this approach of adding bone graft
  2. Inserting a biological response to grow between the two involved vertebra forming a bone fusion
  3. A boney fusion, which causes one fixed bone to replace a mobile joint – meaning it stops the motion at that joint segment

Spinal fusion back surgeries are for candidates who suffer from prolonged back injuries, pain or severe traumatic back injury. It is typically a last resort after other alternatives such as physical therapy or naturopathic remedies fail to relieve pain.