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Medical experts give opinions on Tiger's neck injury
May 12, 2010

Tiger Woods is unlikely to experience any long-term problems because of his lingering neck pain and could feel better by next week, medical experts said on Tuesday.

World number one Woods was forced to withdraw from the final round of last week’s Players Championship in Florida and will have MRI scans on his troublesome neck later this week.

“For Tiger to pull out in the final round, there must have been considerable pain,” Dr. Alex Vaccaro, a professor of orthopedics and neurosurgery, told Reuters. “He must have been having some functional disability with his upper extremity.

“Fortunately neck pain, back pain, arm pain or leg pain is often very transient, lasting for a few days to a week. The vast majority are better in two weeks. So if he falls within that class, he should be fine next week—most likely.”

Vaccaro, who is also chief of spine surgery at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, cautioned that a small percentage of people with neck pain would need treatment.

“They’ll go on to have physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, possible epidural steroids and a very small percentage of those will ever need to have anything more invasive performed,” he said.

“But Tiger is a well-conditioned athlete and he should, if he falls within the general natural history of this disease, feel better next week. That’s unless there are some things we don’t know about, that he hasn’t been discussing.”

Dr. Victor Khabie, a sports medicine specialist at Northern Westchester Hospital, felt the game’s leading player would probably be sidelined from the game for at least three weeks.

“If the MRI shows there is not major structural damage, meaning there is not a herniated disk, then we are probably looking at three to six weeks,” Khabie told Reuters.

“If it shows up that there is a major herniated disk pushing on a nerve and he is having neurological symptoms, that may be something that may eventually even require surgery.”

Woods said he had been troubled by neck pain since returning from self-imposed exile at last month’s U.S. Masters but that it was not related to the car crash outside his home last year that led to revelations about his infidelities.

For Vaccaro, this was a good sign.

“Tiger said this is a more recent thing so I think this should be transient for him,” Vaccaro added. “Keep in mind the scan is going to show something. He’s a high-level athlete so he’s going to have degenerative changes.

“But unless it’s a very large lesion, often times in the setting of a disk bulge and even disk herniations, people get better with simple non-operative measures.”

Asked if Woods had reason to worry about any long-term effect caused by the neck pain, Khabie replied: “With the proper conditioning and the fact that he’s in great shape and he’s played at such a high level his entire life, I think this is something that he can overcome and learn to deal with it.

“It will probably always be there to some extent but once he learns what it is, he will be able to manage it and play effectively with it. I don’t see this is as being any type of career-ending or career-altering injury.”


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