Back Fusion and Mobility

Back Surgery Fort Worth TX Since April is a special month for golfers with The Masters at the beginning of the month, this could be a good time for a blog about the most famous recipient of back fusion surgery.

Tiger Woods.

Although we didn’t perform his back fusion surgery at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, our team of board-certified spine surgeons could have done it. He opted to have fusion surgery after two microdiscectomy procedures failed to quell his serious back pain, back spasms, and sciatica.

Here’s a little some information about the procedure and how it may or may not limit Tiger’s movement as it pertains to playing professional golf.

Why fusion was needed

Tiger had two (and possibly even three) microdiscectomies to try and relieve nerve compression or other nerve irritation occurring in his lower spine. They both failed to alleviate the pain. Fusion was the next option, as the goal is to stop any movement between the two (or more) vertebrae from where the pain is emanating. By eliminating any movement, the nerves are no longer irritated and creating pain. At least that’s the goal. It doesn’t always relieve all the pain, but fusion surgery can dramatically reduce, if not remove, the patient’s pain.

The surgery

Tiger’s fusion is in the lumbar spine, the lower back. It involves the last lumbar vertebra, L5, and the first of the sacrum vertebra, S1. These are the fused vertebrae that intersect with the hipbones to form the pelvis. The sacrum develops initially from five individual vertebrae that start to join together during late adolescence and early adulthood to form a single bone by around the age of 30.

This lumbar area of the spine and the sacrum has to support the entire weight of the upper body as it is spread across the pelvis and into the legs. Because of these loads, the lumbar spine is the location of most back pain.

In the fusion surgery, the surgeon makes an incision in the back (access can also be made through the stomach) to access the spine. The muscles and tissues are gently spread to access the spine. First, the disc material is removed. Then bone graft material is placed between the prepared two discs, in this case, L5 and S1. The graft material can come from the hip or pelvis, from a donor graft, or from synthetic graft material. This bone graft material is supplemented by screws and rods in most cases, basically locking the two vertebrae together, and allowing the bone graft material to fuse the two discs into one solid vertebra. Although rods and screws aren’t always used, considering the torque in a professional golf swing, they were likely used in this case.


The goal is to stop painful motion of the disc or facet joints in the area of the fusion. But in Tiger’s case, you would think that decreased mobility could harm his ability to fully turn in a golf swing. Fortunately for him, this is less of an issue in the L5-S1 segment, as this segment has only very limited motion, to begin with. This isn’t altered all that much by fusing these two vertebrae together.

Time will tell if Tiger’s fusion surgery was fully successful. Early signs show an amazing recovery, allowing Tiger to swing freely and aggressively, seemingly without pain.

If you have chronic lower back pain, although surgery such as fusion is our last resort at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders if it comes down to that our team of experienced surgeons is ready to perform the procedure and eliminate your pain. Call us to set up a consultation, (817) 916-4685.

Posted in: Back Surgery

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