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Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

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2019 Masters Winner Makes Comeback After Spinal Fusion

Authored by Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS. May 30, 2019

In the Modern World of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, The World Spinal Fusion Intimidates Many People.

This shouldn’t be the case in this day and age due to game changing advances in technology, improved surgeon understanding, and optimal postoperative rehabilitation. The world of spinal surgery has greatly evolved over the past 20 years. One well renowned athlete that has undergone a spinal fusion and come out on top is Tiger Woods. Having this surgery allowed him to win the 2019 Masters Tournament; putting him back in the golf spotlight.

In Tiger Woods’ case the extreme forces of rotation, created by hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls over time, caused his lumbar disc to break down. It finally got to the point that his disc could not support the torsion required to power his golf club through the rotation of the spine. This is why he was unable to perform and win tournaments like he has done so often in the past. In April 2017, Tiger Woods underwent a spinal fusion to alleviate this issue and the pain associated with it.

The Fusion Technique That Tiger Underwent Was Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF).

With this surgery the surgeons removed the lumbar disc completely, and put in a device which acts as a shim to restore the heightened balance of the spine while also stabilizing it. The sacrifice with this surgery is that motion is lost due to the fusion of the spine, but the outcome gained is elimination of the severe pain created by the instability from that injured and degenerative disc. This is equates very simply to restoring a stable foundation to a structure.

Low back injuries, like in Tiger Woods’ case, prevents one from being able to use the powers of the upper extremity, through the abdomen to the pelvis, to perform a golf swing or other activities. When one has an unstable foundation, they cannot do simple activities of daily living let alone complex things such as the significant torque and rotation required in a golf swing. Like Tiger Woods having this one level stabilized with a fusion, he was able to regain his mobility and strength.

Post Surgery, Tiger Woods Had to Work Very Hard in Rehabbing His Spine.

The payoff was in the 2019 Masters when he was able to win the tournament, and beat all of the best professional golfers in the world. This was only possible due to the modern medical miracle of a properly performed minimally invasive spinal fusion.

Here at Virginia Spine Institute, our team of surgeons have performed the same operations on professional athletes, enabling these individuals to return to serving our country or entertaining us on the gridiron. Elite spinal surgeons have been performing these techniques in a minimally invasive fashion for over a decade with great success. Tiger Woods’ spine surgery is not new, and is an example of the great advances in modern spinal surgery.

The Bottom Line is That One Should Not Fear the Fusion, but Embrace it When Their Life is Significantly Impaired by Pain and Disability.

This is most true for patients with one level of disease, but also works for patients with more extensive spinal problems. While we cannot guarantee that everyone will win the Masters after having a spinal fusion, our goal is to get you back to enjoying your life pain free. We have helped thousands of patients regain their lives using this approach, and it’s important for people to understand that they can overcome their disability when managed by true spinal specialists.

Watch as Dr. Thomas Schuler (Spine Surgeon, Virginia Spine Institute) drives a golf ball just five months after undergoing a spinal fusion and artificial cervical disc replacement. In the video he’s using a driver made from hardware used in a spinal fusion.

About The Authors

Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

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