My Journey Post Fracture
Most people who have broken a bone(s) whilst out cycling usually have a pretty cool story to go with it to explain how it happened – like maybe descending down a beautiful mountain in Majorca and taking a turn too quickly, or getting caught up in a crash out racing... but that isn’t the case for me, and to this day I can’t fully recall exactly what did happen! All I can remember is I was on an easy social ride on 30th December with some friends and cycling in a straight line up a very mild gradient, going fairly slowly along a dry country lane. The next thing I know I am on my side in the middle of the road with my bike still attached – explain that one! Although a few people have said that your brain can actually erase your memories from the time of trauma, so you don’t remember how bad it actually was to protect yourself…
I was swiftly taken to Warwick A&E (via a lovely passing van man, as the ambulance was going to be up to an hour before it could get to us!) and later x-rayed and informed I had fractured and displaced my distal humerus, which required open reduction and internal fixation, and damaged my shoulder and wrist. In non-fancy terms, I had essentially sheared off the end of my humerus, managed to flip it upwards 90° which needed repositioning and reattaching with screws) – lovely! But I guess in the world of cycling, a pretty minor injury compared to the likes of Chris Froome etc. But still hurt! On my list of most painful experiences during this, the first night following the accident is probably second – not much sleep (attempting to sleep upright with a travel pillow around my neck and my cast on my pillow), lots of co-codamol and just resorting to watching Netflix on my phone. Strangely the accident itself does not take the top spot, possibly as I went into shock almost immediately. Although the journey to the hospital was pretty bad as I didn’t have any painkillers and felt every tiny bump in the road – the only downside of not being in an ambulance! The top spot is actually my first night post-surgery – I guess a lot of internal interfering made it more tender! Morphine was my friend back then that’s for sure! My first physio session is probably up there too as I almost blacked out from the pain – doh!
As an elbow fracture is slightly more complicated, I had to wait 10 days for a specialist surgeon to be available. So, in the meantime I was placed in a cast and sling and Netflix became my best friend and I embarked upon a new challenge of completing One Tree Hill (one of my childhood faves) - 9 seasons with ~20 episodes each – and I am still not finished (they now accompany me on my longer weekend endurance turbo sessions)!
What was a new experience was just before surgery they froze the nerves in my arm to act as a painkiller for when I woke up from the anaesthetic, rather than dosing me up on morphine. So, I woke up with a completely numb arm as if I had been laid on it or something. Such a strange feeling!
One thing the surgeon explained to me during my pre-op consultation was that one of the biggest potential side effects of an elbow fracture is a risk of loss of mobility if it isn’t managed effectively, due to the complicated bone structures in the elbow itself that control various movements (a lot of wrist action comes from your elbow which I never knew before!). Because of this, post-surgery I was only given a bandage around the elbow, sling and splint for my wrist – and was told I needed to get it moving ASAP. Even so it really did surprise me just how quickly you actually do lose strength and mobility. I only had the cast on for 10 days, and then begin proper mobility and rehab work with my physio 2 weeks post-surgery. The sensation of trying to move it for the first time, not long after surgery, I can only describe as like when you have been laying on your arm in a funny position for too long resulting in a dead arm that doesn’t feel like your own and you have no control over it. I could barely lift it off a cushion on my lap and certainly couldn’t bend the elbow. The most infuriating thing was not being able to do the basics such as tie up my own hair or spread butter on my toast. Fortunately, my fantastic partner was on hand to basically be my carer until I had built up enough strength and mobility to begin doing everyday tasks with two arms again (thanks Clive!)
2 weeks post-surgery, when the pain had died down a little, I started back on the turbo trainer (one armed in a sling) with the aim of completing Tour de Zwift – great timing! For the first couple of weeks, as my body was in recovery mode, I made sure I kept the HR low to try and not negatively impact any healing. But as I was meant to be competing at the ETU age group Aquabike Championships (1.9km swim, 90km bike) in Walchsee, Austria at the end of June I was keen to not lose too much fitness! Not long after, I received confirmation that I had been accepted onto the Catenary Cycling Coaching sponsorship programme, so I was really lucky that coach Tim was going to be able to assist in getting me back to where I needed to be.
After about 2 months post-surgery I was able to weight bear and as my elbow quite liked being at a 90° angle, I was able to start properly training on the turbo trainer using my TT bike with additional bubble wrap on the pads. So between now and then, persistent physio exercises and lots of time in the garage has meant I am almost back to pre-accident cycle fitness, according to my recent FTP test.
Running wise, it took a little longer to get back to and I wasn’t allowed to start again until 8th Feb, a month post-surgery. To begin with it was just really easy short jogs with a tubigrip supporting my elbow, with my first run back being parkrun – I was so happy to be back running, it was an amazing feeling even if I did feel super unfit and slow! One thing that got me going was a Strava/AfterShokz 'Be Passionate' challenge - to complete 15km in 7 days. It doesn't sound like much now as I am running at least double that in a week, but at the time this was a much needed mini challenge to keep me motivated when I felt so unfit and running was just hard work! I was then 1 of the lucky 100 finishers to win a medal!
About a month later I then began to incorporate more fitness related work in and since then I have been slowly building back my mileage and intensity. I am still not back to my pre-injury running fitness, but I am happy with the progress I have made so far.
Currently, my elbow is only a few degrees off fully straightening, I can almost touch my shoulder with my fingers again and almost fully weight bear! Shame my A race has been cancelled due to the current situation…(sad face)! But hopefully we will be able to race later on in the year.
So moral of the story, wear elbow pads even when out road cycling lol.
But on a serious note, one thing I did find to be really beneficial throughout this was to set myself mini goals to keep me focused and motivated. In the early days this was as simple as setting myself the goal of being able to tie up my own hair over the next week, ditching my sling for everyday activities, or eating with my right hand. Eventually this moved onto being able to do turbo sessions on the TT bike and gentle runs. They kept me on track and allowed me to see progression, even if a major goal such as competing at the Aquabike Championships felt out of reach at the time. Little goals are just as important as the main one.