Doctors: Tiger’s Return From Back Surgery “Like Winning the Lottery”

It's rare for athletes to return to form following fusion surgery

Tiger Woods at the 2019 PGA Championship. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Tiger Woods at the 2019 PGA Championship. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Getty Images

Today, Tiger Woods will hit the course at Bethpage Black on Long Island in pursuit of his 16th major title.

After more than a decade of subpar play, Woods is back — and it’s all thanks to the condition of his very literal back.

The 43-year-old underwent three failed back surgeries starting in 2014, leading him to undergo complex spinal fusion surgery in 2017 — a procedure which removes a disk in the spine so it can be fused together. The last-resort operation can be effective, but it often leaves patients suffering from pain, albeit less than they had been experiencing before.

For Woods to be able to come back from the rare procedure and once again find success at golf’s highest level is “like winning the lottery,” Dr. Sohail K. Mirza, a spine surgeon at Dartmouth, told The New York Times.

According to Dr. Mirza, only about half of fusion operations succeed, with the definition of success being relief of pain and improvement in function by more than 30 percent.

While the surgery seems to be working for Woods and remains a popular option, many people would likely be better served choosing another procedure, according to Dr. Steven Atlas, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.

“Once they have that fusion, it can’t be undone,” Dr. Atlas said. “And it is likely that they will have future surgery down the road. If your goal is cure, that isn’t what this is going to offer.”

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