Following Normal Recovery Timetable, Woods Should Return Sometime This Summer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The top-ranked golfer in the world is on the disabled list after back surgery.

Earlier this week, Tiger Woods announced that he would be skipping the Masters to have a pinched nerve from a herniated disk corrected.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday, there is a lot to accept about this particular type of surgery, the recovery, and what it means for millions of back pain sufferers.

Modern back surgery is dramatically better than it was even just a few years ago. The surgery Woods and many others have had is now often an outpatient procedure, with an incision less than an inch long and the patient walking around within hours.

You don’t have to be an orthopedic surgeon to tell that a powerful golf swing, as Woods has, just can’t be good for your back. The tremendous torque and twisting, repeated thousands of times by a pro golfer like Woods, is something the human spine just isn’t designed for.

“Something like 60 or 70 percent of the golfers on the professional tour have seen a physician for back pain. It is an occupational hazard,” said Dr. Dante Implicito, chief of spinal surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center.

But it’s not just pros that develop back problems. Weekend golfer Rich DiMartino suffered a herniated disk in his back about seven years ago.

“It was burning pain. I had pain down my leg, sciatic nerve. It affected that, all the way down to the end of my toes,” DiMartino said.

The problem for both Woods and DiMartino starts in the shock-absorbing disks between the spinal vertebrae. The disks have a tough fibrous ring surrounding a jelly-like center. Sometimes the fibrous ring develops a break and the center bulges through, pressing on a nerve coming out of the spine. That’s what causes the pain.

It’s a short operation to clear away that bulge. It’s the rehab afterwards that takes time.

“My typical patient I’ll let put around three to four weeks if they’re doing okay. But they can’t take a full golf swing for six to eight weeks, all depending on how they’re feeling,” Dr. Implicito said.

That’s because it takes that long for the broken fibers in the disk to heal and close up, Dr. Gomez reported.

And if Woods, or any other golfer, goes back to swinging too soon a re-injury is very possible and would be much harder to recover from.

The key to staying healthy is core strengthening and flexibility around the hips and spine.

DiMartino said it was two or three months before he could really swing the club again, but now, “It doesn’t bother me at all playing golf. I’m like pain free.”

It might take Tiger a little longer to get back to competitive golf. Physically, he’s in great shape, which helps tremendously, but he also hits thousands of balls a week with a violent swing. So we may not see him until late in the season. He’ll likely miss at least two of the majors this year.

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