When most people think of back pain and an athlete, they think of Tiger Woods. His recovery is a well documented long dedicated process. In 2018, his return stunned the golf world as many sports writers had written his career as over. He is now back this week starting his 2019 season. So what can we learn from how athletes recover from back pain?
First, Tiger Woods began his process taking the most conservative route to recovery, physical therapy. He understood that once surgery takes place, the success rate and outcomes begins to diminish. Athletes are highly motivated to return to their optimal performance and are willing to put the hard work and consistency of treatment that is required in physical therapy. The challenge with the athlete is listening to their body through the process and not pushing themselves, which can set them back. Tiger Woods experienced this.
The next phase is going through less invasive treatments that help relieve pain temporarily to help in the recovery process. This can include nerve blocks and steroid injections. For an athlete this can help them address the pain and discomfort while they progress in their physical therapy.
Finally comes the surgical options. If the physical therapy and injections do not help the athlete they begin the surgical route. Tiger Woods surgical journey began in 2014. He had choices, do I take the more aggressive surgical route, which would limit his ability to return to golf, or do the more conservative surgeries. He knew the conservative route would mean the potential for multiple surgeries and multiple rehabilitation programs before he could “potentially” return to competitive golf. The same drive and determination that made him the #1 golfer in the world, helped him choose the more difficult path.
Over the next 3 years he dealt with setbacks and disappointments. He had the sports community saying he was done. He even let the possibility of him not ever golfing again to creep into his thoughts. But, when he returned last year, he shocked everyone, even himself and found success at the end of the road by winning the Tour Championship.
The athlete mindset is what we all need when dealing with back pain. There are no quick fixes, no magical surgery, no pill to get you through it. It takes hard work, a tough mentality, willingness to commit to the process.