American golfer Tiger Woods escaped a car accident with his life on Tuesday in Los Angeles. The 45-year-old athlete is now “awake, responsive and recovering”, but updates on his medical condition are still trickling in.
Indian-American doctor Anish Mahajan has now said that additional injuries to the former world No 1 required “screws and pins” to be put into place.
But what do his injuries amount to? For those unfamiliar with medical terminology, it’s hard to fathom the extent of Woods injuries.
What is a ‘comminuted open fracture’?
A rod was inserted into Woods’ tibia — better known as the shinbone in one’s lower leg, which connects the knee joint and the ankle joint. This was to stabilise “comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones”.
Fibula bones are calf bones, which run alongside the tibia.
A comminuted fracture is one that splinters in several places; an open fracture is one that breaks through the skin.
In effect, Wood’s lower leg has likely seen bone break through the skin and fracture in multiple places, requiring urgent care.
Why did they have to cut through tissue around the muscle?
Mahajan, the chief medical officer and interim CEO of Harbor-UCLA, said in a statement: “Additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle were stabilised with a combination of screws and pins. Trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue of the leg required surgical release of the covering of the muscles to relieve pressure due to swelling."
So, why did surgeons had to surgically release muscles of the leg to relieve pressure? In order to keep the muscle itself from dying. (More on that later.)
This is typically done by cutting into the fascia, a band of highly sensitive connective tissues, primarily collagen, that encloses and protects muscles. When stressed, the fascia tightens; when cut, the tension releases around the muscle.
Medical experts are weighing in on what this means to Tiger’s future as an athlete.
What doctors in America think: “He’s fortunate to be alive”
“This is all badness,” said Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at a New York Hospital to USA Today Sports. “From an orthopedic standpoint, it’s an emergency. I think he’s quite fortunate to be alive. The fact he had only isolated orthopedic injuries, that we know of so far, is pretty remarkable.”
Another doctor, Malcolm Smith, told the New York Times that “massive disability” is possible when dealing with such lower-leg fractures, estimating that there is a 70 per cent chance of it healing “completely”.
According to Smith’s analysis, cutting through the lining of the muscle to release pressure can save the muscle from dying. In essence, if they did not cut the fascia, then it could have constricted blood flow and killed the muscle within six hours.
Smith told the publication that some muscle might have died regardless.
“Once you lose it, you cannot get it back,” said the doctor.