WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COLLARBONE BREAKS
“It has to do with the way cyclists tend to fall,” says Dr Brian Cunningham, an orthopaedic trauma specialist. “When you fall directly onto your shoulder, your clavicle (collarbone) – which has an s-shape – compresses, and is prone to breaking.”
You’ll know if you’ve broken your collarbone – it’s not a subtle injury. You may hear a crack as you hit the ground, and moving your arm will be agonising afterwards.
The big issue with this sort of break is that if it heals right, it won’t impair your long-term function – but that doesn’t always happen. Remember, the collarbone acts as a strut, connecting your arm to your chest; any kink in that system means you could face prolonged problems. What to do straight after a crash: If you suspect you’ve broken your clavicle, go to your closest ER. Treatment options: Once X-rays are done, the severity of the fracture will determine the course of treatment. A tiny hairline fracture is a simple fix. Usually the doctor will put your arm in a sling and tell you to come back in six weeks.
If there’s any sort of displacement, things get more complicated. “The pendulum has swung, from staying away from non- operative treatment to opting for surgery in certain situations,” says Cunningham. Collarbone surgery entails placing a small plate over the fracture and is reasonably straightforward. Still, there are risks to any surgery. Collarbone trophy: In the course of their postbreak recovery, many cyclists notice a collarbone ‘bump’ – a bit of a callus where the bone has healed.
technology, so when things go wrong, we get into trouble.
In addition to going too fast and losing control, other actions that will cause you to endo are going too slowly and not having enough momentum, or attempting to bail from an obstacle. In other words: commit, or crash. Loots recommends you cross-train, to strengthen your bones. And, he adds, “always – and I mean always – wear full-finger gloves. Your tendons are near the surface; if you lose the skin off your fingers in a crash, you could do permanent damage and lose mobility.”
And then there are hazards such as slippery and sketchy surfaces, loose gravel, tyres sliding out from underneath you, mechanical failures – and even wild animals. Remember Buck Norris? That’s poor Evan van der Spuy – during a race a few years ago, he was taken out by a Red Hartebeest. SCHOOL OF HARD KNOX Pros take risks during races in order to gain as much advantage as possible – and plenty of them leave a bit of themselves on the course. Results of yet another study published in the BMJ found that elite riders are four times more likely to be injured while competing than when training.
But some pros injure themselves without even turning a pedal in anger. In August this year, Max Knox had a “stupid crash”.
How stupid is ‘stupid’? Pretty damn stupid, says Knox. “Never, ever ride on the kiddies’ tracks. Don’t be fooled by how easy they look – a jackass like me, it seems, can break his collarbone riding the little kids’ course.”
As a pro rugby player, Joel ‘ That Kick’ Stransky faced some of the biggest brutes ever to pull on a boot, but his worst sports injuries were suffered on the bike – or more accurately, fractionally after falling off the bike. Six weeks before the 2015 Cape Epic, Stranners ate some gravel and shattered his collarbone. He still rode that year; and he completed the 2016 Epic; but in 2017, what should have been his 8th Epic medal ended after only a few kilometres.
He misjudged a jump and went over his handlebars. When he emerged from the dirt, he looked like he’d gone three rounds with Grace Mugabe. A plastic surgeon spent two-and-a-half hours stitching him back together. He also broke some ribs and punctured a lung.
Many riders would have hung up their bikes after such a bad crash, but not Stransky. Two months later he rode the PWC Great Zuurberg Trek stage race with former pro Andrew McLean. The pair won the Masters category.
McLean has had his share of face-plant misfortunes, too – including surviving
one of cycling’s more sensational horror crashes, when he ploughed into a dead buffalo. McLean broke a bone in his hand.
My hand break wasn’t as dramatic as McLean’s, and my comeback wasn’t as successful as Stransky’s. And not being able to get back on my bike as the bones in my hand knitted themselves together was frustrating in the extreme. Waiting for the doctor’s six-week cycling ban to expire, I became a couch-potato blimp.
When I finally got back on the bike, my expectations of flying up hills and flowing down them didn’t match the reality. My muscles had shrivelled. But that wasn’t the problem; I could always get my fitness back. What worried me was that I was about as confident as a foreign investor when Jacob Zuma announces a cabinet reshuffle.
I had lost my MTB mojo. I went down rocky descents riding the brakes too hard, and then went into self-loathing mode for riding the brakes too hard. I rebuked myself for being such a crap rider, even as I watched mates bomb past me, going down faster than the Titanic.
I kept telling myself it was okay ¬– I was just riding ‘ within myself’. In fact, I was scared and being tentative, which is actually much more dangerous than being overconfident.
When I came to a technical section or a steep descent, my thinking would go into overdrive. Should I go in fast? Or slow down? Is my weight going the right way? Where should I look? Is this section too difficult? Should I walk? How will I earn an income if I break my hand?
My mental scars had sucked the pleasure out of cycling, and I was on the brink of finding a new hobby. That’s when I had a beer with Chris, the friend I had followed down the singletrack when I
was left stumped. No- one I know crashes more than Chris – but crashing never
dents his confidence. He dusts himself off and continues where he left off, only faster. He’s crash-proof.
“Just ride,” Chris told me. “Don’t overthink it.”
He continued: “When it comes to mountain biking, if you aren’t crashing, you aren’t trying: when you crash, you learn. Don’t fear it, embrace it – and above all else, just ride.”
True dat, I thought. Chris was right. I knew there was only one thing to do: return to the scene of the crime, and come face to face with my nemesis – the Stump of Doom. I rode down the trail, making my way down the steep rocky singletrack. Once more, my heart jumped into my throat as I approached the switchback, but I made the turn okay.
I paused when I got to the stump. Funny – it didn’t look as menacing as I’d remembered. And I made it to the bottom in one piece.
But unlike Moose, I don’t ride because I will crash. I ride despite the fact I will crash. For Moose, crashing is part of the thrill of riding. For me, riding is the thrill of riding. Crashing? Not so much.
And I’ve decided that Descartes’ maxim should actually be: I think, therefore I crash. I’ve come short many times since that beer with Chris, and I accept that I will again – there’s no ‘ if’ about it, it’s ‘ when’. It’s part of the sport. When it happens, it’s just one aspect of doing what I love.
About six weeks after I rode down that singletrack where I’d had my crash, the trail burnt down. The Stump of Doom was reduced to ashes.
My nemesis may be gone, but perhaps it had the last laugh: I still can’t make a tight fist with my left hand. And my fingers ache whenever there’s rain on the way.