We spoke to a Consultant Orthopaedic and Specialist Foot & Ankle Surgeon about his thoughts on the chances of Tiger Woods' recovery following his car crash and surgery
‘Tiger Woods Rehab Will Take 1-2 Years’ – Foot and Ankle Surgeon
Tiger Woods was “very fortunate” to survive a horrific car accident in California on Tuesday, LA police said.
The 15-time Major winner’s vehicle came off the road, leaving him with multiple fractures to his leg and foot.
Woods underwent surgery and was responsive afterwards, prompting the golfing world to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
So what next for Tiger and how long will it take him to come back? Or could this be the end of his career?
We spoke with Limb Reconstruction surgeon and consultant Nima Heidari who specialises in foot, ankle and limb reconstruction, and has been in the industry for more than two decades, to learn more about the injuries Woods sustained to his foot, leg and muscles.
“It [Woods’ tibia] has been fixed by something called an intramedullary nail, because the bones are like tubes and you pop a rod down it, stabilise it, it’s a very, very stable way of fixing it,” Heidari told Golf Monthly.
“The other thing that’s important is he had something called compartment syndrome.
“It’s basically when muscles are injured and crushed – they swell.
“Muscles in the body are actually incapsulated in sacks, which are not particularly flexible so it doesn’t allow the muscle to swell beyond a certain volume.
“Of course if you can’t swell out, what happens is that it just squeezes the muscle to a point where blood can no longer flow in the muscle and it causes muscle death.”
The Big Problem: Woods’ foot injury
Whilst Tiger has suffered huge injuries to his leg and muscles, it could actually be his foot that causes him more problems in the future.
Bones in Woods’ foot and ankle were stabilised using pins and screws, with injuries like this usually spelling the end of careers for high-impact athletes like footballers.
“If you look at foot injuries, they are the things that determine the long-term prognosis,” Heidari said.
“Generally foot injuries with complex tibial fractures, if you compare them to just tibial fractures, they can carry a worse prognosis.
“So I think my prediction would be that the tibia may not necessarily be the thing that causes problems whereas the foot invariably does.
“So the foot injuries are what will determine the future outcome and the reason for that is because bearing load on the foot, which is painful, it has two profound issues.
“One is that it’s a psychological short circuit to the trauma so people don’t like it because it just reminds them of the injury.
“The other thing is that if you have pain, you can’t really exercise so running, jogging and being able to do sporting activities will be much more affected by foot injuries than anything else.
“Foot injuries are different. They really have a profound influence on quality of life.”
The muscle injuries
“The problem with the muscle injuries is that some of the muscle is undoubtedly very injured. It will become scarred,” Heidari said.
“Scarred muscles will become weaker and to regain the strength in these muscles again requires a huge amount of effort.
“Not being able to bear load through the foot initially means that he will lose some muscle bulk.
“There is a variety of ways that you can maintain the muscle bulk through physiotherapy and he would have access to the absolute latest technology to do that.
“But there is no doubt that you will lose fitness, you will lose muscle strength, you will lose balance on that leg and regaining those through rehabilitation and physiotherapy is what takes the longest time.
“The difficult one if you look at any sportsman or woman who has been injured, they’re out for a season.
“It’s not because it’s the injury that requires healing.
“It’s the injury that requires healing plus then the rehabilitation to get back to the really high level of performance that they had before.”
Related: What is Tiger Woods’ net worth?
‘Rehab will take 1-2 years’
Woods’ bone and muscle injuries will heal within a few months, with 80% of the recovery coming in the first 3-4 months.
It will then take up to two years of rehabilitation, although some complex tibial injuries can take up to five years to fully get back to 100%.
For Tiger just to get back to the golf course for practice or social play, he will initially need to use a buggy and wear specialist shoes.
But will he ever be able to walk a full 18 holes again, or compete on the PGA Tour?
“The entirety of my practice is essentially looking after patients that have these sorts of injuries and the key determinant is the patient’s or the individual’s approach to the injury and so on,” Heidari said.
“If you catastrophise it and think ‘Oh my god, my life is over,’ of course that’s exactly what will happen.
“But if you think that ‘I’m not going to let this define me,’ then you can’t predict.
“The thing is that if anyone is going to do it, Tiger Woods is going to do it.
“He is an incredibly single-minded and determined person.
“The human animal is an incredible thing, it can overcome.”
Is Tiger Woods’ career over?
“I don’t know. His career has been over many times right? I think it’s foolish to predict it and to be honest with you, one or two things are going to happen,” Heidari said.
“He’s either to think ‘Oh my god I’m going to give up’ or actually he’s just going to be even more determined and say that ‘I’m not going to let it get me down and I’m just gonna get over it.’
“So I think speculation about the termination of his career, it is just far too soon to predict and my suspicion is that he will excel in one way or another in something.
Nima Heidari is a Consultant Orthopaedic & Specialist Foot & Ankle Surgeon who currently works across three clinics including the Royal London Hospital, Europe’s largest trauma centre.