Physiotherapist Lauren Welch’s recovery from two forearm fractures
On September 1, 2010, I was riding back from Granville Island on my commuter bike, looking forward to grilling burgers from the market. This was day 1 of the only week of summer vacation we had in the UBC Master of Physiotherapy program. As I was rounding the corner in front of Sammy J Peppers (now the Vancouver Fish Company), the front wheel of my bike lodged in the old trolley tracks, sending me flying over my handlebars. In a classic FOOSH injury (fall on outstretched hands), I landed with both hands in front of me while hitting my chin on the pavement.
It was the Labour Day weekend, one of the busiest at Granville Island, and I was lying right in the middle of traffic. A quick thinking bystander yelled that she was certified in first aid, blocked traffic, and called 911. After being cleared of having a cervical spine injury by paramedics, I was whisked away to Vancouver General Hospital. I remember thinking that those burgers needed to go in the fridge…
The x-ray process was more painful than the injury itself. The muscles surrounding my elbows were in protective muscle spasm, in a position of a full bicep curl. Unfortunately that position didn’t lead to an effective x-ray. The technician helped me to straighten my elbow to an unbearable 90 degree angle long enough to take the images. The E.R. doc later informed me that I had bilateral, undisplaced, radial neck fractures.
I left VGH in two slings with instructions to increase my range of motion within my pain tolerance and to follow up with my G.P. for x-rays to ensure the fractures were healing properly. I sought massage therapy treatments to help with the trigger points I had developed in my upper trapezius muscles and also received physiotherapy and acupuncture treatments through a registered physiotherapist. The most challenging ranges to gain back were supination (turning the forearms with the palms facing up to the ceiling) and end-range extension. Manual therapy was crucial to restore the normal joint glides at the elbow.
I had to start with 1-2 lb weights to address the strength and range of motion deficits. 12 weeks is the standard healing time for fractures and after being cleared by a subsequent x-ray, I did my first (and very tentative) bike ride. Even after the fracture had healed, at times I found myself holding my arm at my side with my elbow at a 90 degree angle. I asked friends and family to point this out because it is these types of protective responses that can lead to range of motion deficits.
I’m grateful that the only remaining issue from this incident is that when straightening my elbows during a pushup or vinyasa, my elbow clicks (but not painfully) as a result of the joint surfaces not being exactly the same after a fracture.
A couple of lessons can be taken from my story – 1) it’s crucial to be diligent with your exercises 2) always bike across train tracks at 90 degree angles.