Golf legend Tiger Woods suffered severe complex lower extremity trauma following a rollover car crash near Los Angeles. As we begin to learn more about his injuries, board certified orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Vilas Saldanha provides insight on the type of injuries he sustained and what the road to recovery might look like on Nicki Swift website.
According to a statement provided by Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anish Mahajan, Woods suffered “comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones” and “additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle”.
Dr. Saldanha explains “a comminuted open fracture is one in which a bone breaks in multiple places, as opposed to a clean, simple fracture, and breaks through the skin. Multiple surgeries and infection are common risks associated with open tibia fractures, also known as compound fractures.” Dr. Saldanha believes Woods will at minimum required extensive debridement, or cleaning, stabilization of the major weight bearing bone in his leg, the tibia, with a rod and screws that are inside the bone, pins and screws for his foot and ankle injuries, as well as advanced dressings for his open wounds.
As a prior military orthopedic trauma surgeon with the Air Force, Dr. Saldanha says these injuries are among the most severe that the human body can sustain. “It requires a substantial amount of kinetic energy to be imparted on the patient.”
Having an open fracture can lead to an increased risk of infection. Doctors also performed a fasciotomy of Woods’ leg because of the risk of compartment syndrome. Dr. Saldanha explains that compartment syndrome is a result of “pressure that starts building up in that part of the leg because of swelling and it builds up to such a level that it decreases the circulation and leads to muscle death, and permanent nerve injury.” The fasciotomy procedure releases the fascia, or connective tissue holding the respective muscles in the four compartments in the leg, which allows the muscles to expand and relieve that pressure. “This one move restores circulation and helps to prevent untoward damage later,” Dr. Saldanha states.
It’s hard to predict what the road to recovery looks like for Woods, but he likely has a long road ahead, and possibly more surgeries. An injury like this would “customarily include repeated debridement, or cleaning of the open wounds, and eventual closure of the open wounds, with possible skin grafts. This is in addition to possible definitive reconstruction of his ankle and foot,” Dr. Saldanha explains. Once his bones and soft tissues are healed, not only in his leg, but his foot and ankle, his rehabilitation will likely gradually become more intensive. “First, he needs to be able to bear weight, with a clean, healed, uninfected leg,” Dr. Saldanha says. Then, he will likely undergo extensive rehabilitation and sport-specific therapy once his body is ready.
Since he sustained multiple injuries to the weight bearing portion of his body, the injuries will likely impact Woods’ performance if he returns to golf. The complex motion behind a golf swing, requires the interplay of foot, ankle, and knee. Because he is “the ultimate in physical fitness” Dr. Saldanha believes ” he has the building blocks to recover with appropriate surgical, wound, and physical therapy care. But it is “very difficult to ascertain the level at which he will return” at this phase of his injury.
Learn more about Dr. Saldanha orthopedic trauma background here.