Injury Report: Broken Elbow Creates a Mid-Season Break

Back in the 80’s, one of my favorite arcade video games was Double Dragon.  It consisted of twin brothers using their martial art skills to foil criminal gang activities in some seedy underworld.  You had at your arsenal a variety of offensive moves to subdue your enemy, but it was soon realized that you only needed one move to submit bad guys into a prostrate position: the reverse elbow throw.  Despite the seemingly more powerful moves like the jumping side-kick, front kick or the hip toss, the elbow continuously confused the digital figures so much so that you can just repeatedly put out your pointy elbow to continue to higher levels.  What I found out in reality is that if you fall on your wrist or elbow whilst mountain bike racing, it will break and it will hurt a lot.  You just can’t throw your elbows out all the time and expect it to be fine.  The stupid video game lied!!!

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During the Iron Maiden race, there was a sketchy A-line descent where I successfully cleared it repeatedly during practice.  I also cleared it all four times during last year’s race so I felt pretty confident that it would not be a problem during this year’s race.  Hubris.  I approached it carefully during the first lap; I cleared it without a problem.  During the second lap, while feeling a bit more winded, I approached the A-line with more speed and the next thing I knew, I was sliding down the trail with my bike bouncing behind me.  Without a second thought, I grabbed my bike, fixed my rotated brake lever and continued on with the race.  I suppose it was my adrenaline or my total disregard for physical awareness, but I didn’t really notice any significant pain.  Side note: I also broke my carbon Selle Italia SLR saddle during the race, so really, two things fractured.

It was the next morning where I noticed a very sharp pain in my right elbow.  It wasn’t an ache from overexertion, but it was an intense shocking sort of pain.  Of course, I really didn’t get too worried about it as I thought it was just some joint irritation and inflammation. So with some Nsaids and ice, I expected it to be resolved by the next day.  The next morning arrived, and my elbow grew to double the size and I was barely able to move it in any direction.  It was basically frozen in one position without the ability to flex, extend, supinate or pronate my arm, and the pain tripled over the night.

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I tried to get on my bike so I can ride to work as usual, but any pressure on the wrist went to my elbow and caused a shocking pain.  I was able to one-arm ride my bike to the emergency room at the University Hospital where I waited 5 hours to get an X-ray.  I was expecting for the ER physician to tell me that the x-rays were negative and that it was all soft tissue, but after an unusual long time of waiting after the x-rays were taken, I was getting antsy about the result.  Eventually, the physician came back with a surprising forlorn look where he told me to follow him to the plaster room.  He told me that the radiologist recognized the posterior fat pad sign on the x-ray, which is a sign that I had an occult fracture, most likely in the radial head.  The orthopedic aide promptly put me in a half cast, then the ER physician told me to keep it on for 2-3 weeks.

I suppose the timing was good considering the circumstances.  There was a fallow period of races for the next few weeks anyways so I took this as forced home vacation.  I am now out of my cast and am trying to get my range of motion and strength back so I can get back to biking.  I don’t know how hard I can push my arm while racing or whether I can race at all this year again, but I am certainly going to get on my bike as soon as I can.  Luckily for me, I have a therapeutic laser and an ultrasound in my office so I have been plugging myself into rehab at my own convenience.  I haven’t broken a bone since my left collarbone in 2008, and that was pretty awful physically and emotionally so I am very optimistic about cross season.

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