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How severe are Tiger Woods' injuries?

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Tiger Woods is recovering from surgery after his car flipped in Southern California. Police believe he was driving too fast when his vehicle crossed over a median and rolled down an embankment. Dr. Daniel Savarino, a sports and regenerative medicine specialist, joined CBSN to discuss what we know about Tiger's condition and his road to recovery.

Video Transcript

- Joining me now for more on the extent of Tiger Woods' injuries is Dr. Daniel Savarino. He's a sports and regenerative medicine specialist at Apex Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Welcome, Dr. Savarino. Great to have you with us.

So we understand that Tiger underwent successful surgeries overnight and is now recovering. Doctors say he suffered, "comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones." Can you explain to us what that means exactly?

DANIEL SAVARINO: Sure. So comminuted means that the fracture is in multiple pieces. So instead of just the two parts of the bone, it's in multiple pieces, can be three pieces or it can be 10 pieces. Open means that when the fracture happened, the bone actually poked out through the skin. Sometimes it stays out. Sometimes it goes back underneath. But that makes it much more likely to have something like infection after an injury.

- And so we understand doctors are using pins and screws to stabilize his ankle. Can you explain what the treatment will be for this and how likely it is to heal entirely?

DANIEL SAVARINO: Sure. So you know, they also said that he had fractures in his foot, as well. So you know things like the pins will eventually come out. The plates and screws and that rod in his tibia will typically stay in there forever, unless there's a reason to take them out.

Any one of those injuries is big, but the combination of those injuries, he's very likely not to be putting full weight on that leg for about three months. So he has a very lengthy recovery ahead of him.

- And how likely, though, is his recovery to be complete? I mean, I know there's no way of knowing for sure. But do most people generally recover completely from these sorts of injuries?

DANIEL SAVARINO: Well, yeah, you can recover. It could take a very long time. I mean, he might be looking at well more than a year until he's able to play high level golf again, if ever.

You know, the other problem is I know one of the fractures was in his ankle, which makes him more likely to develop arthritis later on in life. And then again, just the fact that he had a combination of all these injuries plus his prior injuries, it's a long haul ahead of him.

- Right. Let's talk about that. Because of course, we know that Tiger Woods has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and he was in the process of rehabbing his back after having a fifth back surgery. How could this accident impact his recovery process from those surgeries? And do you suspect, you know, this accident will impact his back as well moving forward?

DANIEL SAVARINO: Well, it certainly can delay the recovery from the last surgery, as now he's going to be-- you know, he's not going to be able to walk. He's obviously not going to be able to do a lot of physical therapy at this point. Whether or not he re-injured his back is definitely a possibility. Obviously, they're more concerned about the current fractures and taking care of his leg and making sure all the surgeries were done. But if they're not doing it already, very soon they're going to start assessing that back, too, to make sure that there is no further injury there.

- So we know he has a lengthy healing process ahead. You mentioned it could be a year before he is feeling fully recovered. Do these sorts of injuries-- tibia, fibia, as well as the back that's still recovering-- I mean, do they indicate to you that this may be a career ending experience for Tiger Woods, or could you see him competing again on the level that he's used to competing?

DANIEL SAVARINO: Yeah. Well, I think he'll definitely be able to play golf again. You know, the question is whether he'll be able to play elite again.

The other thing that people don't realize about golf is they typically walk the course, you know, which is a lot of walking, especially for leg injuries and back injuries like he's had. You know, whether or not the PGA will allow exceptions for the tournaments for carts and that kind of stuff would probably all factor into play as well.

But yeah, I mean, it's going to be a long time if he ever gets back to professional level golf again.

- Wow. Well, we are all rooting for him and wish him a very speedy recovery.

Dr. Daniel Savarino, thank you so much for joining us.

DANIEL SAVARINO: Thank you. Have a great day.