Tiger Woods had Surgery Again? What Is A Lum­bar Fu­sion?


"Dear, The Golf­ing Doc; I heard Tiger Woods just had his lum­bar fused. What is that surgery and can you still golf af­ter you have it done? Thanks."

—Frank N. Seat­tle, WA

Well, Tiger Woods is back in the news again. And again, it’s all about his back and not his game. It seems like ev­ery year, the news is about when he will to re­turn to the game or what new in­jury Tiger has. This past April, Tiger Woods an­nounced that he un­der­went spinal surgery again. I do not work with Tiger Woods, but based on the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by his agent on so­cial me­dia, he re­ceived a sin­gle-level lum­bar spinal fu­sion. To be more spe­cific, his surgery was de­scribed as an “an­te­rior lum­bar in­ter­body fu­sion at the L5-S1” level of his spine. In ad­di­tion, the dam­aged disc in be­tween those two ver­te­brae were re­moved and the space be­tween the two was lifted. Since this news be­came pub­lic, many read­ers have in­quired about the na­ture of Tiger’s surgery, as

well as the fu­ture of his golf game. A lum­bar fu­sion is when two ver­te­brae are fused to­gether. This can be done at a sin­gle-level be­tween two ad­ja­cent ver­te­brae or be­tween your last lum­bar ver­te­bra (L5) and the top of your sacrum (S1). Since the lum­bar re­gion of your spine con­sists of five ver­te­brae, a multi-level fu­sion may be done, de­pend­ing on the con­di­tion be­ing treated. For ex­am­ple, I have pa­tients who have had fu­sion from L3 all the way down to L5. It all depends on the prob­lem. The lum­bar fu­sion pro­ce­dure can be per­formed through a va­ri­ety of tech­niques. For ex­am­ple, the fu­sion can oc­cur at the front of the ver­te­brae, hence the name “an­te­rior fu­sion”. Al­ter­na­tively, it can be done at the back of the ver­te­brae, hence the name “pos­te­rior fu­sion”. Tiger’s L5-S1 pro­ce­dure was a fu­sion at the front of the ver­te­brae. In most cases, screws are used to hold the ver­te­brae to­gether. These screws will ex­tend from one ver­te­brae and right through to the other. In ad­di­tion, a sur­geon may also use bone grafts from the hips and trans­fer them to the sur­gi­cal site to help en­cour­age nat­u­ral fu­sion be­tween the bones. For pa­tients who are hav­ing pain due to ab­nor­mal mo­tion be­tween these ver­te­brae, the fu­sion will stop any move­ment from oc­cur­ring, as to elim­i­nate pain or, at the very least, re­sult in fewer prob­lems.

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