HIS MEDICAL chart runs long with injuries—a chronically bum knee, problems in both Achilles tendons, an elbow strain, right-ankle pain, a sore neck—but over the last five years, Tiger Woods has been singularly plagued by an ailing back. He underwent three procedures, including two discectomies, to fix a pinched nerve from a herniated disc from March 2014 to October '15, but he still couldn't escape the pain that kept him off the course for more than a year.
Finally last April, Woods underwent surgery—an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)—that has seemed (so far) to relieve much of his discomfort. The procedure, in which the surgeon reaches the lower spine from the front of the body through an incision in the abdomen, restores the height between vertebrae when a spinal disc has become damaged or worn down. It relieves pressure on the nerves, which can send shooting pains down the legs, in a minimally invasive way—which is significant for someone with a history of back surgeries, such as Woods.
"You're not cutting muscles in the back," says Andrew Sama, a spinal surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery and associate professor at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "You can put a support in the most favorable area of the spine without having to deal with scar tissue near the nerves."
Using bone grafts in and around the support, the two vertebrae—in Woods's case, his lowest lumbar and the sacrum—ultimately become fused together and stabilized. So if it looks like Woods is moving more freely on the course, that's probably because he is. "When you take away that movement [between the vertebrae] that was causing pain, the patient actually feels like he can move better," Sama says.
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Jon Tattersall, a GOLF magazine Top 100 teacher at FusionATL, shares simple stretches to help maintain a healthy back.
ANKLE OVER KNEE
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Then place one ankle over the opposite knee and gently push that leg away from the body.
Lying on your stomach, place your palms down and press them into the ground as you reach your chest forward and up.
From a kneeling position, ground the right foot in front of you. Then lean forward into your right leg while keeping your left knee grounded.