The Real Story Behind Tiger Woods’ Back Surgery


The news of pro golfer Tiger Woods’ withdrawal from the Master’s tournament due to spinal surgery on a pinched nerve in his spine has raised questions. Why did he choose a surgical solution to his back pain? What should the rest of us know about pinched nerves and the treatment options available to those suffering from them?

Surgery was not Mr. Woods’ first attempt at pain relief. Suffering from back pain for years, news reports indicated he tried just about everything – from physical therapy to epidural injections – in an attempt to relieve the pain and return to play. As can be the case with many conservative treatment methods related to the spine, these options weren’t a complete long-term solution. They merely helped him stave off surgery for a few years.

As we can clearly see in the many images captured of Mr. Woods “playing through the pain,” (I’m sure many people can identify with doing this a time or two in life) he was clearly suffering from a debilitating condition that seriously inhibited his ability to play professional golf.

Pinched nerves can occur just about anywhere in the body. But when they’re in your back, they are most frequently referred to as a herniated disc. Symptoms of a herniated disc include pain that starts in the spine and radiates down one or both legs, numbness or decreased sensation in the area that is affected, tingling sensations or muscle weakness in the affected area. Pain may become worse during or immediately after periods of sleeping or lying down.

If these sound like symptoms that you have felt before, don’t panic. Most herniated discs heal on their own without invasive medical intervention in one to six months. If those treatments fail, roughly 10 percent of people who suffer from this type of back injury will need to have surgery. As always, it is important to find an experienced spine expert to help you navigate through the pain, beginning with the most conservative treatment options.

When surgery is required to repair spinal damage caused by a herniated disc, why is microdiscectomy selected? This procedure largely depends on the location of the nerve damage, which was the lumbar area in Mr. Woods’ case. A microdiscectomy is designed to take pressure off of the nerves in the lumbar spine, ultimately relieving pain.

During the procedure, a special microscope is used to view the disc and nerves in question. Magnified viewing allows the surgeon to perform surgery by making a smaller incision, which in turn allows for faster healing. Once the surgery is underway, a careful effort is made to remove the material that is causing the damage to the nerve root and spinal cord. At Virella Neurosurgery, these procedures are performed with tiny incisions thru a small working port. A band-aid is applied and the patient goes home within 2 hours. Most patients go back to work the next day.

While it isn’t the most complicated of all of the procedures performed on the spine, microdiscectomy and any type of surgery really, still carries risk. The best way to minimize those risks is to select a seasoned spine expert who is experienced in performing these types of procedures and to be sure to follow all of the given post-surgery instructions so you can return to normal activity as soon as possible.

In most cases (Mr. Woods included), patients are expected to make a complete recovery after microdiscectomy surgery and typically resume their normal activities within a few weeks. Best of all, patients are pain-free and many people report feeling better than they have in years after surgery. Here’s hoping that will be the case of Tiger Woods as he continues to chase golf legend Jack Nicklaus’ record for most Major Championships.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Anthony Virella, please call us at 805.449.0088.  Our office is very accommodating and we will do our best to help you get the proper treatment.