A broken collarbone is an injury many, if not most, cyclists experience over their cycling lifetime. Because this thin bone supports the shoulder and arm, it is subjected to high loads when we fall. I broke mine falling directly onto my shoulder in a BMX berm, while several others have broken theirs by putting their arms out after going over the handlebars.
The collarbone (or clavicle) is the thin bone on either side of your sternum (breast bone) that runs across the top of your chest to your shoulder. What makes collarbone breaks so frustrating is that there can be a big difference between each injury. How badly you break it (or in how many pieces) and where along the bone it’s broken affects how much you can do during the healing process and how long it takes to return to riding. Some lucky riders heal more naturally as the bone resets, while others require surgery with pins and plates.
6 WAYS TO COME BACK STRONGER
Whether you’re suffering from a broken collarbone or you have a friend or significant other who is, here are a few tips for coming back stronger:
DIVERSIFY YOUR FOCUS
Your legs might feel great (they’re not the parts that got hurt!), but that doesn’t mean you should hop on your indoor trainer the day after your crash. Listen to your doctor’s advice, especially in the first few days following the injury. Dr. Michael Ross, a sports medicine physician at the Rothman Institute and the author of “Maximum Performance for Cyclists,” says that, on average, cyclists should expect to be in recovery for 6–8 weeks — so don’t try to speed the process along.
During your recovery period, try to make improvements in lifestyle factors like sleep, nutrition and off-bike movement. You can use your time off to improve your cooking skills, practice making leftovers to take to work, work on eating slowly or reading more books. Better sleep and sleep habits can help improve your recovery and, again, build habits to carry with you after you return to training.
During the healing process light aerobic exercise, like walking, is a great way to keep moving without risking re-injury or delaying your healing. This six-week focus on improving your lifestyle can be hugely beneficial once you return to riding, and can turn your injury into a major positive.
If you can’t ride, try walking more. Take the time to get out in nature and reap the mental and physical benefits of being outdoors. It can be tempting to hide out inside and become a Netflix-addicted hermit during recovery, but that won’t speed things up. Integrate your walks into family time and errands to really maximize your time. Ross is a fan of walking to maintain fitness, and as you get through the first few weeks, you can include exercises like lunges and leg-presses to work on strength and perhaps make improvements in any asymmetries or lingering injuries you have.
DON’T RUSH IT
When you do start feeling better, you’re going to be tempted to test your legs to ensure you haven’t lost fitness or cram huge rides in — but one ride won’t win your next race or help achieve your goal, but it can derail your season entirely. For a mountain biker, for instance, one hard ride won’t make you immediately race-ready, but even brushing a tree the wrong way with your shoulder could set you back to the beginning.
RECONSIDER YOUR BIKE FIT
As you heal and after you’ve healed, you may need to reconsider how your bike is set up. “Your reach might not be as good, so you may need to change your stem, handlebars or seat,” says Ross. You might be able to tweak your fit by yourself, but if you can’t get comfortable, consider going to a professional fitter to get assessed. As you heal, you might be able to shift back to your old fit, but depending on how your collarbone heals, you may find you can’t go back to your old setup.
TRAINER RIDES AREN’T EVERYTHING
Just a reminder, Ross says: Trying to ride your trainer indoors with your arm still in a sling, using some kind of crazy pulley system to keep you upright, isn’t really training for the bike. “You don’t just use your legs when you ride,” he adds. Your core and upper body do some of the work, and sitting upright isn’t the position you would ride or race in unless you really love riding beach cruisers.
Don’t confuse hours on the bike with solid training time: Again, take time to let your body focus on recovery, and optimize the time you do have with brisk walks, even progressing toward hillier hiking in the last few weeks to simulate hill climbing, and continue to progress your strength work in the gym.
FOCUS ON RANGE OF MOTION
It’s tempting to focus on when you can get back on the bike and start riding, but don’t forget rehabbing your whole shoulder girdle is an equally important part of your recovery process. While you may be able to get back to riding and racing in 6–8 weeks, make sure you continue to see a physiotherapist, kinesiologist or other professional to keep checking in and updating your strength and mobility routines to ensure you are strong and mobile to help improve your resilience to future injuries.