When I saw the news online Monday about Sidney Crosby’s concussion and Tiger Woods withdrawing from a tournament, I immediately asked myself if these were signs that they should retire. It’s not that I want either of them to do it. I love watching both of them. But both injuries and the history each one has with injuries at least brings up that question. I thought I would address it for my latest newspaper column.
This week has brought discouraging news for fans of two athletes widely considered to be among the greatest to ever play their sports.
Sidney Crosby’s latest concussion
The Pittsburgh Penguins announced Monday that its captain, Sidney Crosby, suffered a concussion. Crosby told reporters that he got “tangled up” in practice Friday but didn’t recognize an injury. He woke up the next morning with a headache. Recognizing his symptoms from prior injuries, he notified the team’s medical staff.
Crosby entered hockey’s concussion protocol, where doctors assess him each day to see how his symptoms are progressing. He skated Tuesday, telling reporters after the session that he is “confident things will be OK.” The team has not set a timetable for his return to the ice.
A long history of concussions for the Pittsburgh Penguins star
The two-time Stanley Cup winner and MVP of the recent World Cup of Hockey has been through this process before – in fact, more than most athletes should. The 29-year-old has suffered at least three concussions, according to Sam Werner and Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He battled through head and neck injuries that caused him to miss 107 games over two seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Through the long journey back to hockey from his concussions, Crosby himself questioned whether he would ever play hockey again.
That same question – whether he would ever play again – has swirled around Tiger Woods for the last two years. This week, it reemerged.
Tiger Woods withdraws from two golf tournaments
Woods withdrew from this week’s Safeway Open, only days after entering the tournament. He also withdrew from the Turkish Airlines Open that starts in early November. In a statement, the winner of 14 major tournaments acknowledged, “My game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be.”
While Tiger claims that his health is fine and that his lack of practice time has caused this setback, it’s easy to believe that his history of injuries has played a large role in his game suffering.
The injuries that have hampered Tiger Woods
Woods underwent a microdiscectomy surgery to remove pressure on a nerve from a herniated disc in his lower back in the spring of 2014. He returned to play that summer but quickly aggravated his back. In just his second start of the 2015 season, he suffered another setback. He underwent a second microdiscectomy surgery and a follow-up procedure to relieve discomfort a month later.
Those back surgeries accompany a laundry list of musculoskeletal injuries including an ACL reconstruction, Achilles tendon injury, elbow problems and multiple cartilage procedures in his knee.
The challenge with an athletes suffering multiple concussions
Both athletes face challenges with their respective injuries. In Crosby’s case, concussions can present a slippery slope. Neurologists widely believe that once an athlete has suffered a concussion, he can suffer another one with much less impact to the brain. In a sport with so much physical contact like hockey, one check to the boards could cause another brain injury.
The Penguins’ medical staff is right to progress Crosby slowly and give him as much time as he needs to fully recover.
The stress on the lower back from golf
In Tiger’s case, it’s possible that his back is fine. The multiple procedures could have relieved his low back pain and radiating pain and weakness down the leg that herniated discs usually cause. But the golf swing puts a tremendous amount of force on the lower back, especially for someone who hits the ball as hard as he does.
Maybe these are just minor setbacks. Hopefully Crosby and Woods will be competing at a high level very soon. For now, fans of these two greats anxiously await good news.
Note: A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the October 12, 2016 issue of The Post and Courier.
Crosby skates on his own, discusses concussion diagnosis. By Jason Mackey. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 11, 2016.
Questions return with Crosby’s most recent concussion. By Sam Werner and Elizabeth Bloom. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 11, 2016.
This might be the end for Tiger Woods. By Nancy Armour. USA Today. October 11, 2016.
Timeline: Look back at Woods’ injuries. Golf Channel. October 10, 2016.