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Celebrity Bike-Ride Shoulder Injuries

It's likely that lots of people injured their shoulders while riding bikes (more precisely, when falling off bikes) last week; shoulder crackups are among the most common bicycle-related injuries. But the two whose accidents made news are Lance Armstrong and Matt Lauer.

Armstrong and Lauer suffered two different shoulder injuries under two dramatically different sets of circumstances. Pro cyclist Armstrong, riding in a 5-day race in Spain, got caught up short by a pileup of fellow bicyclers who had fallen in his path. When he flew over his handlebars, he shattered both his helmet and his clavicle, otherwise known as his collarbone.

Lance Armstrong sits in an ambulance as he arrives at Hospital Clinico in Spain after injuring his collarbone. (AP Photo/Rafa Gomez, Cyclismo A Fondo)

Amateur-but-avid biker Lauer, out for a recreational spin on Long Island, was thrown off his bike when he braked hard to avoid hitting a deer that had leapt into his path. He too flew over the handlebars, dislocating one of the two joints in his shoulder, the acromioclavicular one on the top.

Both injuries required surgery: Armstrong's involved screwing the broken bone bits onto a plate. Lauer's dislocation likely required reconstruction of ligaments and insertion of a screw to hold the joint in place, says Jeffrey Lovallo, the upper-extremity specialist for the Anderson Orthopaedic Clinic in Arlington, who didn't treat either man but has dealt with many bike-related shoulder bangups.

Shoulder injuries such as these are terribly painful, Lovallo says. They also can be unsettling because the shoulder bones are so close to the skin, they often "tent" the skin when they break. That's not something you want to see.

But both injuries are likely to heal relatively quickly, within 12 weeks at the outside, Lovallo adds.

Both bicyclists were wearing helmets, which likely saved them from catastrophic injuries. But Lovallo says there's not much a cyclist can do to protect shoulders from a fall. "When you fall on the point on the outside of your shoulder, the force jams it into your body," he says. "The outside of the shoulder pushes everything in. Something's got to give."

Okay, I've officially got the heebie jeebies. Same way I felt when my friend told me about getting caught up in an ocean wave and slammed into the hard sand. He reported that he could hear his collarbone snap. Yikes.

Let's hear your shoulder-injury stories. And your bicycle-injury ones, too. Was your recovery swift and permanent, or do you have lingering effects?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bike Safety , Family Health , General Health  
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"Daddy, sleep with me."
"No, sweetie, you have to ..."
"Sweetie, you have to ..."
"Okay, okay, settle down!"

I have spent 4 evenings out of every 7 over the past four years cramming my fat behind onto the edge an IKEA daybed with at least one of my two sons, lying on my side and scratching somebody's back. As a result, I have developed chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain.

The doctor says Advil, more rest, and the onset of kindergarten will help. Other than that, he says he can't help.

Posted by: info_stuporhighway | March 27, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Not quite the bike you are thinking about, but I had a broken collar bone. I came off a motorcycle at near 100 mph and hit on my shoulder. I was wearing a helmet and leather jacket, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but certainly bad enough. It was spooky feeling the bone wiggle, and it was as though all support for my right arm had given way. It didn't require surgery. The doctors had me wear a clavicle strap that looks like a figure eight. The strap went over my back and supported the shoulder over the break. The break healed in a few weeks and there are no ill effects. I still have a lump over the break, but it doesn't hurt or interfere with movement.

And yes, I still ride motorcycles, but I'm a little more circumspect about how fast I go these days.

Posted by: buddybur | March 27, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Hi, buddybur!
Thanks for sharing your story; I'm glad everything turned out okay for you. Dr. Lovallo did say that the only thing cyclists could do to perhaps prevent shoulder injuries was to slow down, but he added that you can still hurt your shoulder even if you're going slowly. Plus, I can't see suggesting to someone such as Lance Armstrong that he try biking more slowly!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | March 27, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

You should differentiate between a shoulder dislocation and a separation; people frequently, but incorrectly use the terms interchangeably. Matt Lauer suffered a separation of the AC joint, which based on the grade of separation, ranges from sprained to torn ligaments. I speak from experience as someone who had a dislocation and separation (and reconstructive surgeries) in the same shoulder, believe it or not, from different incidents.

Posted by: mcgarrett | March 27, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Celebrity make-over bang-ups -- on a budget! You don't need a $9,000 custom-fitted Trek Madone 6.9 Pro bicycle to dislocate your shoulder.


Posted by: MikeLicht | March 30, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

My husband is a biker and has suffered both a broken collarbone and dislocated shoulder but neither while on his bike. The collarbone break happened when the car emergency break let go while he was getting his golf clubs out of the trunk. He tried to jump back into the car to stop it from rolling down the driveway into the pool but unfortunately was squeezed between the car frame and the house. The should dislocation occurred while slipping on ice in a church parking lot. He was a pall bearer at a funeral mass and managed to help carry the casket into the church with his good arm before leaving for a trip to the emergency room. Thank goodness he always wears a helmet for biking and skiing!

Posted by: Afriend3 | March 30, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Four years ago, I was an avid mountain biker. Many Saturday and Sunday mornings I would ride to my local trails that surround a lake. One Saturday morning, when returning from a ride, my sons had their mini skateboard/bmx ramps set up on the street in front of our house. Pumped up on endorphins and showing very poor judgement, I decided to jump one of the ramps as I came cruising down our street at a speed way too fast for these types of ramps. Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up flying over the handlebars into a catastrophic head first tumble onto the street. I shattered my helmet, shattered my collarbone and sustained a fractured vertabae in my neck. I ended up living in a hard neck brace for 10 weeks. The collarbone could not be operated on, as the neurologist would not allow the removal of the neck brace, even to surgically repair the shattered collarbone. The collarbone was allowed to heal in a jagged fashion and as a result my right shoulder is now lower than my left. I ended up with a partially damaged nerve that extends from my neck vertabrae all the way down my left arm, which causes constant numbness and sometimes aches. For the most part, my injuries healed, but my upper body will never be the same as it was prior to my accident.

Posted by: patrickburrows | April 3, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

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