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Many of us think that a helmet will protect us from catastrophic injuries – which is somewhat correct. But, many cycling injuries occur below the head, so while a helmet is necessary (and the law, in many places) it will not protect you against every injury. One of the scariest injuries that you can suffer from the head region is also one of the most painful: A broken collarbone.

What To Do

If you have immense pain in your collarbone or sternum, you need to lie still and call 911 – or have someone call for you. There are some big, important blood vessels around the clavicle that could have been damaged.

Treatments

So, there isn’t one set rule for treatment. Doctors do various things, and every person is different, hence the various options. These options include:

  • A sling: A tiny, hairline fracture is a pretty simple fix. Usually the doctor will put your corresponding arm in a sling and tell you to come back in six weeks.
  • Surgery: Collarbone surgery entails placing a small plate over the fracture. In about 10 percent of cases, the plate may have to be taken out later; this is especially common in women who report irritation with purse or bra straps rubbing over the area above the plate. In cases where the cyclist has also sustained some sort of leg damage, the surgery can be super helpful, since your shoulders can tolerate crutches the next day.

Prognosis

So, most recover without issue from a fractured or broken collarbone. In the course of post-break recovery, many cyclists notice a collarbone “bump”—a bit of callus where the bone heals. As long as everything heals properly, a collarbone fracture shouldn’t increase your chances of getting another down the road. That’s is why you need to take this particular bicycling injury seriously. If you fall shoulder-first onto the pavement and think you could have done damage, seek medical attention. Don’t consider a broken collarbone a death sentence to your riding. With surgery you could even be back in the saddle in just a few days. Without, you may be stuck on a trainer for at least six weeks. Either way, you’ll have a great story to tell at your next group ride—and you may even have a trophy bump to show.

So, should this deter you from cycling? Heck no! Keep going! Just realize that even if you wear elbow pads, knee pads, and a helmet that you can still injure yourself – and it doesn’t take a lot of force to injure your collarbone. So, be safe and watch your terrain – and always call out for help if you cannot call 911 yourself.