Recovering from injury at home
Back at the start of March I crashed my mountain bike heavily on a trail in the Lake District.
The moment I picked myself up off the ground I knew I’d hurt myself badly – my right arm was dangling by my side and any movement was agony. So I picked up my bike and walked a few miles back to the road, where I was able to arrange to get rescued by my wife, Sarah.
A trip to hospital, an X-ray and a CT scan revealed that I’d broken my shoulder blade. Actually, I’d smashed it to smithereens. It was broken into four main pieces, but most significantly a large piece of my arm socket was snapped off and it was going to need surgery to put it back into place.
In 25 years of cycling this was the worst injury I’d ever had, and two things were immediately obvious; it was going to take a while to fully recover, and staying fit was going to be a challenge in the short-term.
Waiting for surgery
The break in my arm socket was a pretty unusual injury, so I was referred to the specialists at Wrightington Hospital near Wigan. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, but it also meant I had to wait nearly two weeks from the day of the crash to get my surgery.
My arm and shoulder were very uncomfortable, but I was determined to do what I could to limit the damage to my fitness. Daily walks got me out of the house and kept me occupied, helping to maintain a basic level of fitness.
Like many people, exercise (or lack of it) has a huge impact on my mental health, and it was also important to stay active for the sake of my mind too.
After the operation
Just short of two weeks after my crash I had an operation to reassemble my shoulder blade with the help of a metal plate.
The surgery went well, and I was told I should take my arm out of the sling and start using it as normally as I could as soon as possible.
To be perfectly honest I was a bit frightened of moving the arm, and it took me a couple of days to trust it and build up the confidence to start using it again.
I’d been given some very simple exercises to do, but the arm was very weak and any movement was causing a lot of pain and discomfort – in fact it was more painful after the op than in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
My wife had a genius idea that made a huge difference to my recovery. As I said, I was scared to use the arm, in pain when I did, and beginning to wonder if I’d ever have a working arm again.
So she made a chart to stick on the wall and every day we recorded how high I could reach. In the first few days I was able to see my progress from hardly being able to lift the arm to reaching progressively further up the wall.
I could see my progress daily, and the ritual marking of the chart became a key focus of the day.
In the last 25 years I’ve never gone more than three weeks without riding a bike. And I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a broken shoulder break that record.
On the third weekend after my crash I got back on the indoor trainer and pedalled a few kilometres, sitting bolt upright on the saddle. I couldn’t reach the handlebars, but I was pedalling again – a really important milestone for me.
And a few weeks later I had another major morale boost when my incremental gains in mobility meant that the day finally came when I could reach the handlebars again.
Seven weeks after the crash I had my first outdoor bike ride since the crash. Only three very cautious miles (my surgeon told me not to fall off again for at least 12 weeks after my op), but such an important moment mentally.
The important thing that I haven’t mentioned so far is that all this was happening just as the Covid-19 crisis approached.
I was incredibly fortunate to get the last shoulder operation at Wrightington before the lockdown restrictions started, and I hate to think what state I’d be in if the surgery hadn’t taken place.
Anyway, post-op physio wasn’t possible because of the lockdown and the need for social distancing.
When I left hospital I was given a set of exercises to do and I got in the routine of doing them three times a day.
But these basic strength-building exercises and stretches soon became a bit too easy and I started to try to expand my repertoire. I started out by looking through a shoulder rehab book, but felt a bit overwhelmed by the variety of different exercises available.
Then I was incredibly lucky to find a private physio who was prepared to offer sessions via video conferencing – he gave me a some top advice and a variety of new exercises to do each day.
And all of a sudden I started making fast progress. It’s interesting how small day-to-day improvements add up – the big change I started to notice was how much easier it as getting to shut the car door every time I made my weekly lockdown supermarket trip.
Later I instinctively reached for something on a high shelf in the kitchen without even thinking about it – something I couldn’t have done a few weeks earlier.
My top tips
So you’ll have gathered I’m not a medical expert or a physiotherapist, but here are the things I’ve learned in the last few weeks.
Stay active as best you can – it might not be possible for every injury, but a small amount of exercise is better than nothing to maintain your physical and mental health
Work towards small objectives – depending on the severity of your injury the prospect of getting back to normal might seem daunting. Set yourself a series of small goals and record your progress to help keep morale up on those days when you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere
Listen to your body and be patient – you’ll get loads of advice, but only you’ll know when you’re ready to push yourself harder, try something new or get back to your old activity. Don’t give in the temptation to try to get back to normal too soon if your body isn’t up to it yet.
It’s on you to put the work in to your recovery – your doctor or physio can’t wave a magic wand and fix your injury. Develop a routine for your physio exercises and stick to it
Keep going – doing your daily rehab exercises can be pretty tedious, but power on through the boredom and you’ll get back to normal (or maybe even fitter than before)
If you’re recovering from injury at home right now, good luck, and keep going!
Bob Hart (@rosebankmedia) is a public relations consultant based in Lancashire.