1 of 3 | Experts say Tiger Woods has a long way to go in his recovery process from the broken leg, ankle and foot injuries he sustained in a car crash Tuesday in California. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Experts say Tiger Woods likely will need several months to resume walking after sustaining serious leg injuries in a car crash Tuesday morning in a Los Angeles suburb. Potential infections and a history of back injuries put Woods' golf future in jeopardy.
Woods' expected timetable to recover means he will miss his first Masters Tournament since 1994, as well as the majority of the golf season. He also may never return to the PGA Tour.
Physicians who commented on the information available about Woods' injury are not working on his case, but say they are familiar with the nature of the injuries and their treatment.
"Even if he does great and recovers in six months, we are talking about the end of September," said Dr. Joseph Purita, a Boca Raton, Fla., based arthroscopic and orthopedic surgeon who helps athletes with stem cell therapy.
"I would say if all goes well, he maybe could play again in 2022, but that's a big if," Purita said.
The famed golfer broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg and injured his foot and ankle in a single-car crash.
Dr. Anish Mahajan, the chief medical officer and CEO at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where Woods is being treated, said orthopedic trauma specialists inserted rods, screws and pins into Woods' leg during emergency surgery.
Woods is recovering in his hospital room. He'll now need to avoid infections, let the wounds heal, establish balance, build strength and more during his long recovery, medical experts said.
"I think there is a good chance he'll be able to walk again," Purtia said. "He may have a bit of a limp, but he's a superb athlete and is groomed to work at it. If anybody is going to succeed, he probably would, but sometimes you can't overcome all of the odds."
Expected recovery time
Woods' fracture occurred between his knee and ankle. Doctors performed a fasciotomy -- cutting tissue in the area to relieve swelling and pressure on the muscle -- so blood could flow to the rest of his leg.
If they hadn't cut the tissue, muscle and tissue in Woods' leg could have died. The operation may have have prevented an ultimate amputation.
"That does impact his injuries more," Purita said. "It's much easier if you break your leg and skin is intact and you have surgery. Unfortunately, that's not the case here."
Dr. Rahul Shah, a board certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon, who also has experience working with professional athletes, expects it will take a "couple of weeks" for Woods' wounds to heal. He said it will take a "minimum" of a few months for him to put weight back on the leg.
"Depending on how that [stability] comes, he will need to use that leg more solidly before he can get to swinging and playing golf again," Shah said. "We are still a ways away from that."
Woods was on a three-month layoff from golf as he recovered from his fifth back surgery. Both Shah and Purita said Woods' back injury history could complicate his recovery.
Doctors will try to minimize the potential for infections in Woods' leg, which could lengthen the recovery process. The fact that Woods' bones broke through his skin increase the potential for infection, experts said.
"The odds are he doesn't get an infection, but It can happen," said Dr. Derek Ochiai, a sports medicine expert and arthroscopic surgeon from Arlington, Va.
Infections for Woods' type of injury require additional surgeries. Woods also will need his bones to heal properly and to maintain a proper rehab regimen. That process doesn't include what Woods needs to do to heal his injured back, Ochiai said.
"If you had those back surgeries, you don't want to get into that accident," he said.
Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith was one of the most-recent athletes return from major league injuries and infections.
Smith broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in 2018. He needed 17 surgeries and nearly two years to recover. He returned to play in October.
"We do everything we can to prevent infection, but they can occur whenever something grows in a place it's not supposed to," Shah said. "When you get hurt, all the tissue is affected because of all the damage that occurs to tissue. That tissue is not normal or healthy, so it is more likely to become infected."
Doctors prescribe antibiotics and perform aggressive treatments to lessen the potential for infections, but Shah said those precautions aren't "100% foolproof." For now, he said, Woods' family, friends and fans need to be patient as the 15-time major champion starts his long recovery.
"Golf is inconsequential right now," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday on Golf Channel. "Tiger is a human being. He had some really difficult injuries.
"The most important thing is his well-being and recovering and supporting Tiger's family. When Tiger wants to talk about the golf, we will talk about the golf. All of the energy is going to be poured into supporting him in the days and months ahead."