The Painful Truth About Tiger's Knee

Golf champion Tiger Woods faces reconstructive surgery that will sideline him for the rest of the year. He played through the pain of a stress fracture and a badly torn knee ligament when he won this year's U.S Open.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's follow up now on news that Tiger Woods is finished for the season. If you saw him at the U.S. Open last weekend or on Monday, he won in dramatic fashion, but swung awkwardly and said his knee was hurting more each day. Now he will have reconstructive surgery on that knee, which will sideline him for months. NPR's Patti Neighmond has more.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Woods says he was injured while jogging about 10 months ago. He decided against surgery to repair the ligament, in order to continue taking part in tournaments. He opted for a more minor procedure to clean out cartilage in his left knee, but then a couple of weeks ago, he suffered a double-stress fracture of his shin.

Orthopedic surgeon Robert Marx has not treated Woods, but he specializes in sports medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Marx says a torn ligament likely put Woods at risk for other injuries, especially considering his particularly powerful swing.

Dr. ROBERT MARX (Orthopedic Surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery): Of professional golfers, Tiger Woods probably has the hardest, most aggressive swing of all, maybe in all of the history of professional golf, one may argue. If you watch him hit his driver off the tee, he really goes after the ball hard and really twists his body to generate the power to hit it so far.

NEIGHMOND: This sort of injury is more common in pivoting sports, like basketball, soccer and volleyball. When doctors perform surgery on Tiger Woods, they'll create an entirely new ligament to connect the end of his thighbone to the top of his lower leg bone. The damage is apparently severe enough to warrant this, instead of a simpler repair to sew the ligament back together.

Patients typically leave the hospital the same day after surgery. They're on crutches for a few weeks, but generally can't engage in physical activities like jogging for at least three months. To return to a full athletic regimen, says Marx, could take six months, but not for the world's best golfer.

Dr. MARX: In the case of someone like Tiger Woods, I would expect him to probably be hitting golf balls somewhere between eight and 12 weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him return to competition by six months. People like Tiger Woods, who are professional athletes, tend to recover faster than the average individual.

NEIGHMOND: But it won't be in time for the British Open next month or the PGA Championship in August. Even so, when Woods returns next season, he'll be only 33 years old, giving him plenty of time to achieve his life's goal of topping the number of tournaments won by golf legend Jack Nicklaus. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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