Tiger Woods’ Knee

On my way to work I usually listen to sports radio and catch the top 6 sports news stories from the day before, just as I walk into the office. Today, the #1 story was Tiger Woods’ season ending knee surgery. As I had a little bit more time to think about and learn what he had been diagnosed with, it brought into perspective just how amazing his win this past weekend was.

So lets summarize some the medical findings that came to light:
1) Tiger Woods will have ACL reconstruction on his left knee and will be out the rest of the season. This is for an ACL tear he say he sustained jogging in July 2007.
2) He had been diagnosed with stress fractures in his left tibia 2 weeks prior to the US Open and his doctors recommended he not compete.

Based on these findings, here are some ponderings I had today on how amazing an athlete Tiger Woods is:

Realization #1: Tiger Woods has been playing with a torn ACL. Specifically a torn ACL in his left knee. And he hasn’t just been playing, he has been winning!!! He won the PGA Championship last year, the BMW championship and a few other tournaments to end 2007, he came in 2nd at the Master’s this year, then won the US Open this past week. ALL ON ONE KNEE!!!!! For those of you who do not know much about the ACL, that is a major stabilizing ligament in the knee. Without it, the knee usually feels unstable and the shear forces and torque produced in the knee are higher than normal. These forces could possibly lead to incr. stress on the cartilage and meniscus. And for a right handed golfer with a swing like Tiger’s, the forces on his left knee are probably ridiculous.

Realization #2: I have read articles where people have been questioning Tiger’s timing in electing an April surgery, but like anybody else, Tiger Woods probably wanted to try all his options before going to the last resort- ACL reconstruction. This explains his decision to have arthroscopic surgery in April. I would assume this was a debridement type surgery where his surgeon would just clean out some of the damaged cartilage, so he would not get as much pain and stiffness. If the strength would return and his knee would feel stable, he could then opt for the ACL reconstruction at a later date. Usual timeline for rehab in this type of surgery is 4-6 weeks. Obviously this was not enough.

Realization #3: Perhaps trying to push his progress after the surgery, the stress to Tiger’s knee after eventually lead to fractures in his tibia. Painful, but with time these will heal. It is amazing though that he walked 7,607 yards x 5 over the weekend with these fractures. All I can say is this guy is a gamer!!!

Realization #4: I am sure that the doctors went over all this with Tiger, and he said himself that he probably should have heeded their advice. Which probably would have meant having that knee surgery last year in July, after a problem with the ACL was discovered. But for an athlete that had yet to win a Major in 2007 and that was probably trying to win the FedEx Cup, staying in the game was the only option. Once again, the competitive nature of these elite athletes is something that is difficult for most of us in the general public to understand.

Having worked with athletes for the majority of my professional career, I understand how special some of these situations/competitions are for them and how special they are. And many times, my job is to help them just be ready and get by. Of course I have opinions about what is medically sound and what is not, but many of the decisions I leave up to the athlete. Because I’ll never be their shoes. I’ll never know what it’s like to compete at the Olympic games or an NCAA championship. I’ll never walk 18 holes in a US Open playoff at Torrey Pines with a chance to cement my place in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, golfer of all time. So, all can really do is watch, be amazed, and be ready when these athletes come calling.