From the WebMD Archives

This story was updated throughout on Feb. 24, 2021.  

Feb. 23, 2021 – PGA legend Tiger Woods faces a lengthy recovery following surgery to repair broken bones in his leg and a shattered ankle, an orthopedic expert said.

Woods, whose car ran off a Los Angeles area road Tuesday, had “significant” injuries to his right leg, foot and ankle according to a statement Tuesday by Anish Mahajan, MD, chief medical officer and interim CEO of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where Woods had surgery.

Multiple "open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia [shin bone] and fibula [calf bone] bones were stabilized by inserting a rod into the tibia," the statement says. ''Additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle were stabilized with a combination of screws and pins.'' In addition, there was trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue of the leg that required surgical release of the covering of the muscles to ease pressure due to swelling.

Scott D. Boden, MD, chair of orthopedics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, reviewed public information about Woods’ injuries and treatment for WebMD.

"This is a severe leg injury," Boden says. "The  comminution means multiple fragments [of bone], and open means the skin was penetrated, both suggesting a high energy injury."

The need to relieve the covering of the muscles, he says, means there was abnormally high swelling, and that can potentially affect the nerves or blood vessels. "We don't know  yet about nerve damage, but hopefully not."

As for the recovery, ''physical therapy will likely be needed as part of the rehabilitation plan. Depending on the details of his foot and ankle injuries, which were not provided, this could take 6 months to 2 years."

Even so, Boden says he expects Woods to be able to walk again. As for his ability to compete, ''it really depends on the details of the foot and ankle injuries and if they affect the joint surfaces and cartilage.''

Boden says he is hopeful, however. "Bottom line, if anyone can make it back from this, Tiger can. I would not want to ever count Tiger out from a comeback."

The accident, a rollover crash, happened early Wednesday morning near Los Angeles. 

Woods was trapped in his 2021 Genesis GV 80,  a mid-sized SUV, after the vehicle struck a sign in the median and went into the opposing lane before landing on the driver's side.

"He was alive and conscious and there was no evidence of impairment,'' L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said shortly after the accident.

The accident at the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, came on a stretch of road that officials say is frequently the scene of accidents. Woods was not able to stand on his own after the accident. He was wearing a seat belt.

"It was a single rollover vehicle [accident] with one person trapped," said L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Fire department personnel first made sure Woods was breathing, then assessed the serious leg injuries.

Woods, the winner of 15 major PGA tournaments, was in California for a 2-day shoot with Golf Digest/GOLFTV. Over the weekend, he’d served as a host for the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational, Golf Digest said.

Woods last competed in the PNC Championship in Orlando with his son on Dec. 20 said. He announced last month that he underwent back surgery to remove a pressurized disc fragment and hoped to be ready to play in The Masters tournament in early April.

Contrary to previous reports, Osby said the “jaws of life” were not used to get to Woods. Rather, fire officials used a tool for prying victims free and an ax.

Woods was placed on a backboard as a precaution against spinal injuries and transported to nearby Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a trauma center, in serious but stable condition.

"He wasn't so serious he needed to be transported to the nearest facility," Osby said.

According to Villanueva, there were no skid marks visible.

"Apparently the first contact was with the center median,'' the sheriff said. The cabin of the vehicle was more or less intact, officials said.. A neighbor called 911 to alert them to the accident.

Rollover accidents carry the risk of severe injuries, says Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency room doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital, NY. Among them are traumatic brain injury, intra-cranial bleeding, spine injuries and paralysis, which are the worst-case scenarios, he says. Ruptured spleens and liver lacerations are also possibilities, he says. If the injuries stay confined to limited orthopedic trauma, “he's quite fortunate,” Glatter says.

However, even fractures can involve the need for blood transfusions and can be complicated by injuries to the blood vessels and nerves, Glatter says. 

Show Sources

Golf Digest: “Tiger Woods suffers multiple leg injuries in single-car accident in Los Angeles.”

Twitter: @LASDHQ, Feb. 23, 2021.

CNN: “Tiger Woods in surgery with 'multiple leg injuries' after rollover car accident near LA, agent says.”

Press conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and Los Angeles County Fire Department

Statement, Anish Mahajan, MD, chief medical officer and interim CEO of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

Scott D. Boden, MD, chair of orthopedics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta.

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