Broken shoulder - What's safe to do?

Hi all,

I broke my right shoulder 3 weeks ago while trail running. I tripped on a rock and tried to catch myself with arm extended: I broken the greater tuberosity of the humerus. As I understand it, it’s the outer bump on the bone where the rotator cuff attaches. I didn’t need surgery and recovery is going well: I ditched the sling and can move my arm without pain a bit further every day.

On the trainer, I can stay upright and get a decent workout. I wonder when it will be safe to get on the bike outside again. I can move my arm if I hold it with my other hand, but I cannot move it too far in any direction using the muscle (which pulls on the broken bit, as I understand it) without pain. The doc said I should wait 6 weeks (total) before even starting physio, but that sounds very conservative.

I checked whether I could reach the handlbars: I barely can without pain at this point. It’s a bit of a mystery to me how bones heal and whether pain is a good guide for what’s safe to do. Is the pain coming the broken bone, or from soft tissues that will need some physio work anyway ? Is there any risk starting to improve mobility before the 6 week mark ? Thanks !

Edit: not expecting a remote diagnostic obviously, just a bit of background education on the topic given the amount of intelligent people on this forum. The doc gave me his boilerplate recommendation of “6 weeks without moving”. I’'m not sure he had ever been on a bike himself so I didn’t try to get more advice…

This is a crazy thing to ask the forum. No one has Even seen your Xray .
If you don’t trust your orthopedists opinion, get another opinion from a different orthopedist

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Good point JK. I’m not expecting a remote diagnostic. I was just hoping for a bit of background education on the topic given the amount of intelligent people on this forum.

Without a private health insurance I only got to see a doc for less than 2 minutes, and he gave his boilerplate recommendation of “6 weeks without moving”. I’'m not sure he had ever been on a bike himself so I didn’t try to get more advice in that direction…

Just need a ladder…2:30

We cannot and should not give you medical advice.

If you feel your current doctor does not have the necessary experience, indeed, many doctors are not accustomed to seeing athletes, you may want to get a second opinion from someone with a background in sports medicine or has experience treating athletes.

If that is not in the cards, because you can’t afford to see another doctor, I would follow your doctor’s advice and do nothing for six weeks. Sorry.

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First of all, my sympathies. I broke my scapula a few years ago and it wasn’t much fun.

Here’s a few things to consider:

You’re focused on the wrong thing here. It’s not important whether he’s a cyclist or not, it’s important he’s a trained medical professional, which he is.

Secondly, I remember a TR podcast that covered this but I’m struggling to remember which one. The team suggested that the body does a fair bit of work in repairing the damaged bone and training could somewhat detract from that repair if too much is done, so proceed with caution.

Thirdly, I often sit up with my hands off the bars during a recovery valley of a TR workout. I notice that my power, cadence and the muscles (it feels like) my legs are using all change. I imagine this would be quite noticeable if you were riding for any duration no-handed or even single handed. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to consider as it could affect compliance.

I broke my humerus 3 years in a motorcycle crash. Broke the whole head of the bone off, requiring surgery, and a bunch of hardware. I got back on the bike (pedal) at about 8 weeks post surgery. For a few weeks, it was just like, “gotta get out of the house, and sort of ride”. Just gentle rides around the neighborhood, as I was only able to ride in a normal position for a few minutes at a time. Then it was back to normal. Looking back, I should have waited longer, because I don’t even want to think about the agony of rebreaking it, had I had a spill in those early days back on the bike. That said, I can remember so clearly, how much my soul needed to get back on. It was a hard time for me. Be patient. You’ll be better soon.

I’ve broken my humerus in May of 2019 which needed surgery and came with some new cool titanium hardware.

I was — officially — in a sling for 5 weeks post surgery, but the reality is that I was on the trainer 3 weeks into recovery. Like you, at first I could barely reach the handlebars and once I could do that I started with some easy sessions up to an hour.

I swear that getting on the bike — but being extremely gentle with the activity — helped my healing process immensely. Getting the blood flowing, and getting into the positions the shoulder doesn’t allow you to be in that easy definitely sped up the recovery and prepped me for PT later on.

Harder sessions started as soon as the sling officially came off IIRC.

A few tips which were news to me back then:

  • your heart rate will be abnormally high throughout the healing process, so don’t use it in your training as any kind of benchmark (although obviously keep an eye on it),
  • the PT is by far the most painful and challenging part of the whole ordeal, including the fall, the hospital stay, and the surgery,
  • osteoporosis is a thing which can affect mere mortals as well (previously I thought it was reserved for the pros and the inhuman strain they put their bodies through).

Almost a year later I still have difficulties getting that arm in certain positions, and the shoulder does pop and hurt from time to time, but I’m almost back to 100% with range of motion and strength.

I wish you a speedy recovery, and look into supplementation for bone density. Take care.

The six weeks period given by the doctor is not a boilerplate statement. It is what historically been shown to allow sufficient time for a solid bone callus to form at the fracture site while the healing process is taking place. The arm movement problems you have mentioned as well as the description of the fall are indicators of rotator cuff injury beyond just the fracture.

Very wise advice from y’all. Thanks for all the info. I might report back on the progress once it’s healed if anybody is interested. I know, for me, that reading reports from other’s injuries helped put my own situation into perspective.