The recent news of Tiger Woods’ horrific car accident has been startling. Watching the images of the aftermath, we see how serious the incident and the injuries sustained by the golf great are. While news outlets have been reporting on details of the necessary emergency orthopedic surgery, fans are growing more and more concerned, so we thought it would be helpful to provide some expert insight into the meaning of some common terms and procedures being reported.
Injuries sustained where a large amount of energy or force are at play are considered high-energy traumas. Accidents involving a moving vehicle, like in the case of Tiger Woods, or a fall from a significant height are examples. These traumas result in more complex injuries that generally involve more tissue damage.
An open fracture, historically known as a compound fracture, is a fracture in which the bone has broken through the skin of the area at the time of injury. Because the wound is open, there may be contamination at the fracture site that increases the risk of infection. Severity of the injury depends on the degree of contamination and extent of damage to soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. Open fractures should always considered an emergency and treated immediately due to the increased risk of infection.
Use of Rods, Plates and Screws
When a fracture cannot be adequately treated with conservative measures, such as setting the bone and casting or splinting, surgery is indicated. In the case of open fractures, surgery is necessary to clean the area to minimize the risk of infection. Fractures treated in this way usually need to be stabilized with metal hardware, such as rods, plates and screws. This is called internal fixation. Nails or rods are inserted into the center of long bones, such as the tibia, for stabilization. These are most often used for fractures near the middle of long bones. Some fractures may require a plate and screws to hold the bones in place while they heal. In some cases, wires or pins are utilized to treat fractures in smaller bones. Depending on the case, pins and wires are usually removed once the bone has healed adequately. Rods, plates and screws are often not removed.
Fractures can cause bleeding and severe swelling, which can create excessive pressure within muscle compartments. If this occurs, this pressure can cause damage to muscle and other soft tissue within that compartment, which may be irreversible. This is called compartment syndrome. If this occurs, emergency surgery must be done to prevent this tissue damage. If not properly treated, this problem may lead to amputation. Treating this requires a procedure called fasciotomy, during which surgeons incise the covering of muscles (called fascia) to relieve the pressure from the injury. This release is commonly achieved through large incisions, which may heal together once swelling is reduced or may require skin grafting. Sometimes fasciotomy is performed if the injury is felt to have a high risk for developing compartment syndrome.
Until more information is released about the specifics of Tiger Woods’ injuries and treatment, it is hard to speculate on what his recovery will look like. The focus now is on successful healing from surgery and combating any complications, should they arise. Traumatic injuries are devastating to those who have had the unfortunate experience. We hope through the support of his family and all his fans, Tiger Woods will make a full and healthy recovery. We wish him all the best in his journey.
To learn more about the orthopedic trauma specialists in our practice, visit our NEOSM physician profiles.