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David Chao, MD: Multiple Broken Bones May Be The Least of Tiger’s Worries, Expect More Surgery to Come

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As shocking details of the single car crash involving Tiger Woods continue to emerge, it seems the original assessment of a long recovery and no golf in 2021 may unfortunately be true.

Woods and his people released this statement late Tuesday evening, and below is my interpretation of what it means.

This confirms the significance of his injuries, but thankfully they are not life-threatening, despite an emergency “long surgical procedure.” Although the public is focused on the multiple fractures in his right leg, ankle and foot, the real worry is the associated soft tissue injury. The ability for the bones to heal is not the biggest concern here.

The statement acknowledges the “trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue,” and this is what needs to be watched carefully. Even complex comminuted (multiple fragments) fractures can heal reliably. However, if the covering around the bone is not viable, that creates an even bigger problem of infection.

The statement acknowledges “comminuted open fracture” where bone fragments punctured through the skin in two different places on the shin. It also indicates there was enough crush injury and force that there is significant worry for swelling such that “surgical release of the covering of the muscle” (fasciotomy) was performed, which means Woods currently still has open wounds to his leg. Thus, the story is not over.

Woods will likely have several additional surgeries, at least to keep the wound clean, to debride dead/damaged tissue and eventually to close the wounds. In such cases, the damage is often so great that there is not enough healthy muscle or skin to cover the bone, and therefore a flap or tissue transfer is needed.

All of this is not to discount the significant bone injury. By report, Woods has a segmental (broken in two separate areas) tibia fracture that is shattered in many pieces. The possibility of further definitive fixation of the bones in the leg/ankle/foot also exists.

The statement does not indicate the presence or absence of nerve or artery injury, and the hope is that this implies there was none. It also makes no mention of the left leg, despite early reports of both legs being injured.

There is no question there was more force and initial damage here than when Washington quarterback Alex Smith suffered an open fracture that needed 17 surgeries and two years of recovery. The hope is that early action for Woods prevents an infection and the resultant complications, but no question this will involve more upcoming surgery and a long road to recovery.

Let’s get Tiger out of the hospital and walking before we discuss his golf future. He has beaten long odds to return before with his five back surgeries and spine fusion, but his odds are even longer now.

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

9 Comments

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  1. Still stunned. It wasn’t long ago I saw a clip of him with his son on the golf course. Really heart-warming. I can’t imagine what his children are going thru now.

  2. I just hope he gets to walk without a cane in the end and end up with an outcome closer to Alex Smith than Joe Theismann. Any notion to resume a career as a PGA tour player will likely be a miracle given the notion that it’s beyond what happened to Smith. My best to him in his recovery.

  3. I hope nothing but the best for him. It’s time for him to retire and enjoy life without a club. The press needs to leave him alone. Tiger turned a sport upside down like no other person. Sit back and think . Did they build basketball gyms because of Jordan. No. He is a grown man who people still think he is 18. He is suffering from the same over exposure that has caused many to withdraw from the world. People will not let him live a normal existence. Cannot shop, eat or attend a sporting without being asked by 50 people for an autograph. I have a friend who suffered the same fate. It dawned on him that shit needs stop when a sign saw hanging from an over pass 1500 miles from his house that said
    “We love you Steve “.He was on every magazine cover In sports 1987. He didn’t want to be the next Bobby Knight. He just wanted to teach basketball. He smiles when he sees Lavine and Ball playing pro basketball. Mission accomplished. That’s what Tiger wants with his son. Let Tiger go folks

  4. A few years ago myself and plenty of other folks figured his days of winning majors were over due to his back issues, so the fact that he’s had such a great comeback is really house money at this point.

    I can see him having a great post competition life similar to Michael Jordan, continue to build his brand and perhaps own his own sports or other massive business franchise someday. It would also be great to have him as a broadcaster.

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