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Tiger Woods - A golf legend’s ongoing battle with injuries and pain

Tiger Woods’ absence was felt this spring during the 2021 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Tiger’s fans wondered if he could make another comeback after suffering multiple leg fractures in a recent car accident. Unfortunately, Tiger required extensive surgeries, and a return to golf was not in the cards this spring.

Aside from the traumas caused by car accidents, Tiger Woods has also experienced several golf-related injuries. Over the past 27 years, he has injured his back, elbows, shoulders, wrists, and knees.

Tiger is no exception. These five types of injuries represent the most common problems experienced in both amateur and professional golfers.

The five most common golf-related injuries

Did you know that golf is more likely to cause injuries than rugby, hockey, or other high-impact team sports?

  • According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, nearly 7 in 10 amateurs and 9 in 10 professionals will suffer a golf injury at least once in their lifetime.
  • The risk of injury over one yearis 41% in amateur golfers and up to 90% in professionals.
  • Low back pain, tennis elbow/golf elbow, rotator cuff injuries, wrist tendinitis, and ruptured knee ligaments are the most common injuries in golfers.

Here is a closer look at how these types of injuries affected Tiger Woods and how they could affect you.

# 5 Knee problems

Knee problems start when strain is placed on a weak knee while rotating the hip during a golf swing. Extreme force placed on the knee can tear knee ligaments.

Knee injuries were the first pain problems that Tiger Woods experienced. Even before turning pro in 1996, Tiger underwent surgery to remove some scar tissue from his left knee. He later needed surgery to remove a cyst from his left knee and to drain excess fluid.

In 2007, Tiger ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while training at home. He pushed through to win five of his next six events but could not avoid surgery. In 2008, Tiger underwent reconstructive surgery on a damaged ACL and missed the rest of the 2008 season.

To prevent knee pain, golfers must stretch their calves, hamstrings, thighs, and core muscles before heading out for a round.

Pain specialists offer several treatments for knee pain, including knee joint steroid injections, knee ligament injections, viscosupplementation, genicular nerve blocks, RFN, and regenerative medicine.

# 4 Wrist injuries

Repetitive motions and the high speed of the typical golf swing places the wrists at risk for injuries. The most common golf-related wrist injury is tendinitis, a swelling of the tendons responsible for wrist movement. It is common for golfers with tendinitis to have wrist tenderness at the top of the backswing and on impact.

Wrist injuries are prevented by strengthening the wrists and forearms. A pain specialist can provide regenerative medicine, a type of treatment that enhances the body’s own healing properties. To read more about tendinitis and its treatments, click here.

# 3 Shoulder pain

Shoulder injuries account for roughly 19% of golf injuries.

Golfers often develop shoulder pain due to tendinitis, bursitis, and tears in the rotator cuff due to the repetitive motion of the golf swing. Tears in the tendons or muscles surrounding the shoulder joint are especially common in people with previous shoulder injuries.

A sudden sharp pain in the shoulder points to a possible tendon rupture, while a gradual onset of pain is more likely to be just inflammation.

While 2006 was considered Woods' best years after winning eight PGA tours and two majors, it was also the year he injured his left shoulder. Nonetheless, Woods fought through the pain and won the World Golf Championships-American Express.

A golfer must engage in regular stretching and strengthening of the shoulder, back, and abdominal muscles to prevent rotator cuff injuries. If you have a rotator cuff injury, use the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method. For additional relief, a pain specialist can offer steroid injections in the shoulder and surrounding ligaments/tendons, block the suprascapular nerve, a nerve that is responsible for shoulder sensation, and regenerative treatments.

# 2 Tennis and golf elbow

In the elbow, irritation or inflammation of the outer tendon is known as tennis elbow while irritation and inflammation of the inner tendon is known as “golf elbow”.

Interestingly, more golfers suffer from tennis elbow than golf elbow.

In golfers, tennis elbow starts with pain on the inner side of the elbow or forearm while swinging a golf club. There may be tingling or numbness in the fingers and weakness in the hands and wrists.

Golfer's elbow is less common. It is caused by overusing the forearm muscles while gripping the club, rotating the arm, and flexing the wrist.

Elbow tendinitis is certainly a problem that Tiger and many other golfers, professional and amateur alike, have dealt with.

To prevent tendinitis, golfers should rotate their practice regimen to allow the elbows and arms to rest. For information on tendinitis and its treatments, click here.

#1 Back Injuries

Low back injuries account for up to 34% of golf-related injuries.

Back pain was certainly Tiger Wood’s biggest setback during his golf career.

In 2014, while ranking as the world’s number one golfer, Tiger withdrew from the final round of the Honda Classic due to back pain and muscle spasms.

Tiger’s problem was a herniated disc in the low back that irritated a spinal nerve to cause leg pain. To read more about this issue, click here.

Eventually, Tiger required a microdiscectomy, a surgery that relieves back pain by removing a damaged portion of a herniated disc. While struggling to recover from surgery, Woods missed the cut in three of the four majors in 2015.

In 2016, Woods needed a second microdiscectomy. At this time, his Official World Golf Ranking had dropped to 292.

Woods returned to golf in 2017. However, it didn't take long before he withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic due to back spasms. To read more about this issue, click here.

At the age of 42, Woods continued to suffer from back pain due to degenerative disc disease. (click here to read more about this issue). The problem was a worn disc in Tiger’s low back that was irritating a nerve and causing searing pains down one the leg. Tiger’s pain was so severe that at the time, that a return to golf seemed unlikely.

Tiger underwent an ALIF (Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion) in 2017. This is a minimally invasive back surgery where a neurosurgeon reaches the spine through small cuts in the abdomen. This approach prevented further trauma to Tiger’s back muscles and increased his chance of returning to golf. The surgery was successful, and Tiger made a comeback at the 2019 Masters. At the time, no other professional golfers had made a comeback after fusion surgery!

Low back injuries are the most common pain issue in golfers and in the general population at large. When surgery is not recommended, a pain specialist can offer several treatments for back pain. To read more, click here.

On a closing note

Golf is a popular sport that enhances both your physical and mental health. For many people, the benefits of playing golf outweigh the risk of injury. That has become even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic, where golf became a favored “safe activity”.

However, it is important for golfers to know the risk of injury in this sport and to listen to their bodies when pain starts. Seeking medical early on can prevent a small injury from becoming a bigger problem.

Do not hesitate to call NSPC when your favorite sport is causing pain problems. For an expert opinion, click here.

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