I would urge Tiger Woods to speak out against the danger of opioids after surgery

I would urge Tiger Woods to speak out against the danger of opioids after surgery

Tiger Woods suffered from severe lower back pain and sciatica, which famously hampered and derailed his golf game and led to four surgeries. Few thought he would ever make it back to the top rung of professional golfers and yet, on Sunday in Atlanta, he won his 80th PGA tour tournament — his first in five years. This inspiring accomplishment clearly took heart and courage and a restoration of self-image. But the foremost question everyone’s mind this week is how was Tiger possibly able to accomplish this?

Lower back pain is very common, affecting over 90 percent of people at some point in their lives and few believed that Tiger would ever play golf again, including Tiger himself. He also had the associated problem of the addiction to painkillers and alcohol to overcome.

His bulging disc led to four surgeries, the first three of which involved microdiscectomies where fragments of the culprit disc are sucked out through a scope. His fourth surgery, which was just a year and a half ago, was more extensive. It was still accomplished minimally invasively, involving a small incision, but involved removing the disc entirely and replacing it with a bone graft, which fuses into place over time, stabilizing the spine.


Tiger was aided by the nature of the surgery itself, which because it is minimally invasive and approached from the front, avoids damaging the essential muscles and nerves of the back behind the spinal column. And a recent study in Sports Health from the prominent orthopedic group at Rush University in Chicago revealed that a majority of golfers may return to their prior level of performance after the minimally invasive lumbar spine fusion surgery that Tiger had.

Of course, returning to golf is one thing, returning to the highest level of performance to win a major tournament is quite another. Professional golf requires a tremendous amount of coordination and back strength.

It also involves mental strength. Tiger Woods’ struggle and success is a testament to the advance in surgical techniques, but more than that, it demonstrates the mind-over-matter success of a fierce competitor. Science and modern medicine brought him there, but the accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible without the underlying drive and ability.

And when you add in the overcoming of alcohol and drug problems, the accomplishment is even more amazing, showing mental strength as well as physical. He reached a low on Memorial Day, 2017, when he was arrested for a DUI, asleep at the wheel of his car. This incident occurred following his fourth back surgery and a urine toxicology report revealed two opioids as well as a sedative and a sleeping pill in his system.

Not only is this kind of dangerous/addictive cocktail common after back surgery, but it can blunt motivation for full recovery going forward.


So Tiger’s story is not just a testament to modern surgical techniques, it is at the same time a warning about the multiple drugs (especially opioids)taken too frequently and extend well past surgery and how it can ruin a patient’s future.

I would urge him to speak out against the danger of opioid pain pills after surgery. The current attempts by the Food and Drug Administration and others to limit these opioid prescriptions could benefit greatly from Tiger’s helping to shine a media spotlight on the problem.

Tiger’s recovery, made possible by science, goes beyond science and reaches the place where mind overcomes matter, where the spiritual meets the physical and the impossible becomes the possible. We can all learn from this lesson and apply it to our own lives, whether we have overcome surgery or run into problems with addictive substances. We can all defy the odds and return to being our best selves.

Marc Siegel M.D. is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent