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Posted in Our Blog on January 18, 2022
When going for a ride, few cyclists will leave home without a helmet – but the ubiquitous “brain bucket” is the extent of protective equipment for those getting around on two wheels. Though cycling isn’t intended to be a contact sport, nearly every avid cyclist has a story about past injuries – may be due to an unexpected encounter with a car, a pothole or another bike. Some will be lucky to come through with a few scrapes, but bone fractures are unfortunately a common result of a bike crash. A fracture can be minor and result in a temporary setback; others can be serious and incapacitating. Here are some of the common fractures you might end up with if you are unlucky enough to be involved in a bicycle accident.
When knocked off your bike, you instinctively reach out to brace yourself as you fall. When your hand makes impact with the ground, the force travels up your arm to the weakest point, which could be your wrist, elbow or clavicle (collarbone). The most common wrist fracture in a bicycle accident is the distal radius, the large bone in the forearm. Another is the scaphoid, a small bone at the base of the wrist. Since the wrist may not function properly if the bones aren’t exactly aligned, they may need pins as well as immobilization in a cast. If you land on your elbow, the end of the radius bone may crack where it meets the other bones of the elbow joint, the radius and ulna.
Fracturing the clavicle, which connects your shoulder and breastbone, is sometimes called “the cyclist’s rite of passage” as many famous cyclists have suffered this injury. Bike crashes are the most common reason for a clavicle fracture. A hard fall that breaks the clavicle can also damage your ribs, shoulder blade or neck. If the fracture is not too severe, you may be able to get away with only a sling, but more severe breaks can require surgery – including plates and screws to make sure the bones heal in alignment.
Most associate a broken hip with the elderly taking a fall in their home. However, according to the medical journal Injury, hip fractures are a common injury in young cyclists. Taking a spill that knocks you sideways means your hip will take the brunt of the impact. The hip joint works like a ball and socket, and when you land on it with enough force, the femoral head (ball) will break the acetabulum (socket). A hip fracture can take you out of commission for several months, and you will require crutches or a walker to get around while you heal, and a very gradual return to activity as slowly increase the amount of weight you put on your hip. Like other complex breaks, surgery may be required, and you may end up part Bionic Man or Woman if metal plates are needed to reconnect your bones.
When you are thrown by an impact over your handlebars (called an “endo” or “face-plant”) you may experience trauma to your face and head that can’t be prevented by wearing a helmet. Common injuries include a broken jaw and broken teeth, which would require extensive repair by a maxillofacial surgeon. These kinds of fractures run the risk of permanently affecting your appearance with changes to your bone structure and facial scarring.
Although spinal fractures are less common after an “endo,” they are on the increase. The greatest percentage of fractures are in the cervical spine, the bones in the neck. These injuries are potentially very serious. In the worst-case scenario, a vertebra fracture can affect the spinal cord, resulting in neurological impairment or paralysis.
If you are unfortunate enough to experience a bicycle accident, your injuries may not fall into a discrete category, and you may have multiple fractures and trauma to different areas of your body. A San Francisco cyclist who crashed due to poor conditions and signage in a construction zone was awarded $2.2 million in a settlement for broken bones and head trauma that put the plaintiff in a coma.
There is a range of ways that a bone fracture can affect your life. A broken wrist or elbow makes everyday activities like dressing, grooming, cooking and writing a struggle, and a broken collarbone can make sleeping comfortably a challenge. Hip fractures, or upper extremity fractures involving pins, require surgery, which carries additional risks. In addition to hospital stays recovering from surgery, there is a risk of infection, or reaction to anesthesia. A broken jaw or broken teeth interferes with the most basic functions of speaking and eating.
While bones are made immobile in order to heal, your muscles lose flexibility and volume, and your injury might require physical therapy to help you regain full range of motion and rebuild muscle. If you are a competitive cyclist, these fractures may put your best cycling days behind you. For hobbyists, you can be forced to a significant amount of time off work. While younger cyclists have the best change of healing quickly, older cyclists will have a longer recovery time.
Bone fractures as a result of a cycling accident can also affect you psychologically. All will likely keep you off your bicycle for an extended period, and cyclists will tell you that one of the most frustrating aspects of being injured is taking a hiatus from an activity they love. If you are a competitive or professional cyclist, even the smallest physical changes mean you may never regain your competitive edge. You might become dependent on your partner, family or friends for everyday needs, and as an active person who loves their independence, this can be extremely difficult to accept.
As these examples show, a bone fractured in a bicycle accident can be a minor (if painful) setback, or require surgery, physical therapy and a long recovery period. If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident and someone else is at fault, the law office of John W. Redmann can help. Contact us and let us get you on the road to recovery.