May 30th, 2017

Tiger Woods and back surgery

Tiger Woods is facing a new scandal: a DUI charge based on the fact that he was found passed out on the side of the road with his lights on, and was somewhat disoriented. He has claimed that the problem was not a result of drinking, but was instead “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. What caught my eye was this:

[Woods] underwent fusion surgery on his back more than a month ago — his fourth operation since 2014. Woods said in a blog post published last week that “it was instant nerve relief.”

From personal experience as a person very familiar with long-term back problems and nerve pain, I can say that four surgeries in three years is an awful lot of surgeries, and that nerve pain is a dreadful thing from which to suffer. Virtually all pain is mediated by the nerves, but the sort of nerve pain Woods is referring to is pain that originates in damage to the nerves themselves, and it is quite a different animal from the usual pain, as well as much more recalcitrant to medication or to treatment of any sort.

I wrote about my personal experience with the phenomenon here, and I wouldn’t wish such a thing on a dog.

Woods has written that he is now free of his nerve pain, so why was he taking medication? Well, he’s still pretty recently post-surgical, and my guess is that he’s taking it for the surgical pain (although of course it could be something more pernicious). A fusion is a big big deal, and a month or so isn’t long at all in the healing process, even for an athlete.

I wish him well. Four surgeries in rapid succession indicates to me that Woods might have been suffering from what’s called “failed back syndrome,” and it’s a difficult thing to treat. He reports that this latest surgery was successful; time will tell.

I never had back surgery, although many doctors were more than willing to perform it on me. One of the main reasons I didn’t have surgery was that they tended to disagree on which surgery I should have, and that fact didn’t inspire confidence even though I went to some of the most famous back surgeons in the country. Another problem was that I knew a lot about failed back surgeries from other people who’d experienced them. So I suffered nerve pain for over a decade, and then slowly my back started to improve. Nowadays (knock wood, knock wood, knock wood) I still have the problem, but if I’m careful it’s usually quite manageable and I don’t even need medication. But I have enormous compassion for those with histories such was Woods’.

14 Responses to “Tiger Woods and back surgery”

  1. OldTexan Says:

    Oh lord, I saw the loopy eye mug shot of poor Tiger and I felt sorry for him. Now it seems as if he was on medication instead of being whacked on alcohol or funny pills. We need to take our one gawker look, like a bad wreck on the side of the road when we look hard to see something and hope we don’t. I wonder if he is on a lot of steroid medication which makes a person look puffy and moon faced. Anyway, good luck to Tiger, nothing to see here, keep on moving……

  2. Michael F Adams Says:

    I do not know anything for certain about this pain of Mr. Woods, or about yours, but the pain from spinal metastases responds very well to amytryptelline. I hope that someone is trying that, for this sort of pain. Elavil got a pretty bad rap as an antidepressant, but found new life with intractable nerve pain. It feels, to this nurse, like a miracle.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Last night ABC reported he’d been arrested for DUI. The report did NOT mention he’d pulled over much less relate his side. I rather doubt if the ABC editor cared, more viewership for a drunk who had it all than for a man suffering from post operative surgery.

    That said, if Tiger’s doing fine why did he pass out on the side of the road? Something doesn’t add up.

  4. Lizzy Says:

    Just a guess based on a relative who had multiple back surgeries in less than 2 years: with each surgery they may have had to up the pain meds (i.e. on meds before surgery, so increase post-surgery to deal with new pain from surgery/while healing). When this is the case (and itmay not be with Tiger, but…), it takes some work to then get completely off the pain meds; you have to slowly step down dosage. Regardless, why doesn’t he have a driver? He should not be driving if he’s been on pain meds.

  5. Griffin Says:

    The first three surgeries were microdiscectomy procedures with the second and third supposedly being smaller procedures and then he had the fusion. After the first three he came back and played at the end of last year and looked very uncomfortable and then came the latest surgery. Golf is very hard on the back and almost every great golfer has had some level of back issues but it seems as like this has led to many other problems including perhaps dependence on pain killers.

    As someone who has been involved in golf at some level my entire life it’s really sad to see this. Many people have contempt for him after some of his problems but I have a hard time judging someone when I don’t know the whole story. All I know is that at his best he was better at his craft than any other person in any other activity I have ever seen.

  6. Lee Says:

    When I heard the news, my thought was, “So what?” I really didn’t care. Not like I am slamming on Tiger Woods. I guess because people do occasionally get pulled over for suspicion of DUI. I KNOW a few people who have. Sure, he’s got the money that he could have a limousine drive him from Florida to Seattle. But some things just happen and you are a little stupider than you normally are.

    I saw the headlines, “Is this the final nail in Tiger’s professional coffin?” REALLY? REALLY?! That was a little over the top, I think.

    I do believe the medications story. It makes sense to me.

    I drove home from the dentist while I was waiting for the vicodin to kick in. Me, I didn’t have anyone to drive me, I didn’t have the money to get a cab, public transportation would have taken, and I kid you not, six hours. And it wasn’t three am.

    The puffy features makes me think Old Texan has a point. Steroids made me VERY puffy.

  7. charles Says:

    Agreeing with others here – one look at that photo of Tiger and I, too, felt kinda sorry for him.

    He just looked, so, “out of it”! poor guy.

  8. Tesh Says:

    I don’t much like Woods as a person, but I feel bad for him on this. It’s a good reminder of how even well-meaning and adequately performing drugs can cause problems that might be best avoided with things like a friend to drive or some time off.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Michael F Adams:

    Amitriptyline has been used for nerve pain for many many decades. I was injured in 1990 and already it was in use. Problem is, like most medications, it’s not all that effective for much neuropathic (nerve injury) type pain, although patients differ in their responses.

    Later on, various anti-seizure meds were found to be a bit more effective for neuropathic pain: neurontin was the first, and lyrica is now pretty popular. I took neurontin for quite some time, and it had a small positive effect but really quite small. Another drug that is sometimes used is methadone, one of the few opioids that can touch nerve pain.

    Unfortunately, neuropathic pain just doesn’t respond all that well to drugs.

  10. Gringo Says:

    Michael Adams
    Elavil got a pretty bad rap as an antidepressant, but found new life with intractable nerve pain.

    Some years ago I got a case of shingles on my face. I don’t recall precisely what medication was used, but from having worked as an aide in a psych hospital, I recognized that I was being given some sort of psychiatric med for shingles. May have been Elavil. Mellaril?

    The dosages were much smaller than what I recall the psych patients got- 5 to 10 % of a psych patient dose, perhaps. The med worked very well in suppressing the nerve pain of shingles, without any negative side effects.

    I went out of town for a conference and missed a day of meds. I thought that I should double up to catch up. Bad mistake. I was drowsy the next day. That gave me an inkling of what psych patients got.

  11. Tuvea Says:

    I have had three major back surgeries over the years. The last was a spinal fusion after rods had been implanted to support my spine.

    Once I was able to tolerate sitting up the Doctor started weaning me off of pain meds. I swear I’m getting a twinge just thinking about it. VBG

    While the pain has gone away so has my ability to twist my shoulders more than a limited amount. Trying to swing a golf club just isn’t possible.

    I can’t imagine how a world class athlete – or anyone for that matter – could even attempt to play golf with back pain.

  12. Cornflour Says:

    It’s probably not needed here, but I’ll go ahead and note that follow-up news stories reported that neither breath nor urine tests measured any alcohol in Tiger Woods’s system.

    As it happens, I like most dogs but don’t like Tiger Woods, so I’ll modify Neo’s sentiment a bit: I wouldn’t wish nerve pain on a rat, and I really hate rats.

  13. Mike K Says:

    I remember when Tiger was just starting out, a golf commentator predicted he would have back trouble because his swing involved a very tight winding of his back on his backswing. David Duval went on a physical fitness thing when Tiger was riding high and it wrecked his career as his back gave out just with the exercising. He finally was able to come back but never did as well again.

    “follow-up news stories reported that neither breath nor urine tests measured any alcohol in Tiger Woods’s system.”

    DUI includes drugs but that is a good point.

  14. Mike K Says:

    Also, Tiger’s father died about the time his decline began. That may be a factor.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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