Tiger Woods: The Masters, his injury and prognosis

FILE - In this April 5, 2010 file photo, Tiger Woods listens to a question during his news conference at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. Woods will miss the Masters for the first time in his career after having surgery on his back. Woods said on his website that he had surgery Monday, March 31, 2014, in Utah for a pinched nerve that had been hurting him for several months. (AP Photo/Harry How, Pool, File)

The biggest sports news on this year’s April Fool’s Day was no laughing matter.

Tiger Woods announced he would miss the 2014 Masters next week in Augusta, Ga. due to back surgery. Woods had the procedure to relieve pressure from a pinched nerve.

Following surgery, a statement indicated that Woods would begin “intensive rehabilitation and soft tissue treatment” within the week, with the goal of returning to competition sometime this summer.

Dr. Alexander Vaccaro, M.D., Ph.D., attending surgeon at the Rothman Institute, explained some of the finer points of the procedure and what it means for Woods’ future.

“The procedure, a microdiscectomy, is a procedure designed to take pressure off a lumbar spinal nerve to improve leg pain, while creating an environment to improve leg strength,” explains Dr. Vaccaro.

Adding that up to 85 to 95 percent of patients undergoing microdiscectomy experience these aforementioned improvements, Dr. Vaccaro clarified that the procedure is not designed to deal with back pain or leg numbness.

Of course, Tiger’s timeline for return leaves a great deal open to question. “Sometime this summer”, if taken literally, would mean no U.S. Open (June 12-15, Pinehurst, N.C.), and leaves golf’s other two majors, the British Open and PGA Championship up in the air. The PGA Championship, the final major event of the year, wraps up on August 10.

“With appropriate conditioning, most professional athletes can return back to sports within three months,” says Dr. Vaccaro. “High-level, well-conditioned athletes may begin sport-specific training at 4-6 weeks [post-surgery] and depending on their response to training, can return to full activity in 3-4 months.” 

By that timeline, it would seem that June’s U.S. Open is out of the question, but that the July/August majors may be in play. Given Woods’ competitive nature and stated desire to break the record of 18 Major championships held by Jack Nicklaus, it’s reasonable to believe we could see him competing in a major tournament this summer.

On the other hand, over-exuberance could be Tiger’s worst enemy. “Playing golf puts a tremendous amount of torque on the lower back,” says Dr. Vaccaro. “Return to play must be modified by the patient’s response to the conditioning program.”

Once rehabilitation is complete, there’s no reason to believe Woods will be compromised in any way for the long-term. “This procedure should not affect the longevity of his career,” confirms Dr. Vaccaro.  

So we will see Tiger Woods back on the links competing for major championships. The question is will we see it in 2014?

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