Low Back Surgery Requires Serious Consideration

October 16, 2015 by Todd Christman

By John Doherty, ATC, PT

Tiger Woods had his first low back operation in March of last year yet still managed to play in seven PGA tournaments in 2014. This year was better only in the sense that he played in 12 tournaments. However, he never finished higher than 10th, missed the cut four times, and withdrew — after only 12 holes — from another.

The withdrawal occurred at the start of the season in February, his third in nine tournaments for low back pain. However, the talk of muscle spasms was explained away by words such as “weather delay” and “firing the glutes” — or an inability to do so. Wishful thinking.

Four weeks ago tomorrow, Woods had a repeat microdiscectomy procedure for the low back pain that never really went away after the first.

Just eight days earlier, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr needed a second low back procedure of his own — not because of a recurrent injury but because of a complication.

Two days ago, Kerr revealed that his first lumbar surgery (similar to Woods’), on July 28, caused a knick in the protective lining of the spinal cord (dura mater). That, in turn, allowed a continuous leakage of cerebrospinal fluid that went initially undiscovered but ultimately prompted the second surgery.

Currently on a leave of absence, Kerr is unsure when he will be able to return.

All of which should make anybody contemplating low back surgery unsure, as well. Because despite words such as “micro” or “limited approach,” there is nothing minor or guaranteed with low back surgery.

You can read the full version of this article in The Times. John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.