For many cyclists, the collarbone break is almost seen as a rite of passage. You’re not classed as part of the cycling fraternity until you have a couple of bolts screwed into your clavicle (the bone that runs from your shoulder to your neck).
Nearly every professional cyclist has broken their collarbone at some point during their career. Who could forget when Sky’s Bradley Wiggins broke his during the 2011 Tour de France, a race he was favourite to win. And most recently, it was Commonwealth Games time trial champion, Alex Dowsett, who had the misfortune of falling foul to the injury, which put his hour record attempt back several weeks.
Thankfully, there is some good news. While it is a common injury, providing the break isn’t complex, it doesn’t take that long to repair. But how is it caused in the first place?
It can be said that the collarbone is designed to break. Its job is to act as a buffer for bigger, more important bones and joints that sit around the arm and shoulder, soaking up forces and pressure.
When a cyclist falls off their bike and is about to hit the ground, the natural reaction to prevent their face from smashing on the floor is to outstretch an arm.
The force from falling will travel through the hand and up the arm. At this point, the clavicle, which is also one of the weakest bones in the body, can’t deal with such force and simply breaks. But in doing so, prevents other parts of the body from damaging.
There are a number of ways to spot a collarbone break:
- Swelling or tenderness around the injured area
- Bruising to the skin
- A bulge on or near your shoulder
- Bleeding, although this is rare
In order to get the swelling down, hold ice to the injured area. Unfortunately, it will require medical attention and an X-ray to determine the severity of the break. In some cases, it will heal naturally, using only a sling, but with more complex breaks, the bone may require pinning with plate and screws.
Within a few days, the pain will ease and you can start light cycling on a static bike or turbo trainer. This won’t require gripping the handlebars and zero forces are sent through the bike. Within 10 days – although in some cases it can be longer – road riding is a possibility. But it has to be approached with caution; only go out for short rides, and use roads that are free from traffic.