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Thread: How Do You Come Back After A Serious Injury and Many Months Away From Cycling

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    Default How Do You Come Back After A Serious Injury and Many Months Away From Cycling

    Hello. I had a cycling accident in mid-September 2016. Mt rear tire got stuck in a seam in the concrete at the very beginning of the W&OD. I broke my left femur. I was in the hospital for four days; a titanium implant was placed into my left leg. By December I was doing better--hiking in the woods, walking a lot, working out at home. In February I returned to my gym. I walked there five or six days a week (3 mile round trip) and worked out on aerobic machines and weights. I got stronger and felt a lot better. I hiked in AZ and Nevada in March and April.

    My doctor OK'ed me to ride again two months ago. Yet, I haven't gotten back on my bike. I spent a few days cleaning every part of it and tuning it to perfection (at least as close as I can come to that). Yet I can't bring myself to get back on. For many years prior to my accident I had ridden 11-12 thousand miles / year. The accident I had last September was my second serious accident. I had another 21 years ago. No permanent damage, but a trip to the emergency room. I got back on my bike a couple of weeks after than and did not look back.

    Any suggestions or insights as to how I can get back to riding regularly?

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    Trying to imagine myself in that position. I am guessing that riding with someone else could be good motivation to get back on the bike. And maybe going back to find that joy of cycling that first got you into the sport (or into it as an adult?). For me -- and this may be the opposite of what you want to do coming off an injury -- it is mountain biking. Nothing is more fun to me on the bike than blasting around Schaeffer Farm or Fountainhead. So that is probably where I would turn, but much of the reason for me is also memories of riding with friends (mostly friends waiting for me) -- so I do think just finding people to ride with might be a way to start again.

    Another thought would be to take a trip to a new destination and ride there. For me the experience that made me really rediscover cycling as an adult was taking a bike tour in Oaxaca. I had a hybrid and had ridden the MVT a bit, but never really got excited about it. Riding in the dirt reminded me of being a kid and when I can back from that vacation I decided to see if one could mountain bike in the DC area. The trip probably doesn't need to be so far away, but trying out riding in a new environment might be fun -- and different enough not to bring back memories of crashing (not sure if that is a factor or merely lack of motivation to get on the bike).

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    Quote Originally Posted by highline View Post
    Hello. I had a cycling accident in mid-September 2016. Mt rear tire got stuck in a seam in the concrete at the very beginning of the W&OD. I broke my left femur. I was in the hospital for four days; a titanium implant was placed into my left leg. By December I was doing better--hiking in the woods, walking a lot, working out at home. In February I returned to my gym. I walked there five or six days a week (3 mile round trip) and worked out on aerobic machines and weights. I got stronger and felt a lot better. I hiked in AZ and Nevada in March and April.

    My doctor OK'ed me to ride again two months ago. Yet, I haven't gotten back on my bike. I spent a few days cleaning every part of it and tuning it to perfection (at least as close as I can come to that). Yet I can't bring myself to get back on. For many years prior to my accident I had ridden 11-12 thousand miles / year. The accident I had last September was my second serious accident. I had another 21 years ago. No permanent damage, but a trip to the emergency room. I got back on my bike a couple of weeks after than and did not look back.

    Any suggestions or insights as to how I can get back to riding regularly?
    First of all, I'm so sorry about the crash and your prolonged loss of mobility and the trauma that goes with it all. But the good news is that your mobility is restored and I'm sure you're grateful for that. But there's that one last step... one box left unchecked and that's getting back on the bike. If I put myself in your shoes, I don't know if I could announce a full recovery until I was back in the saddle given the centrality of riding in your life (11-12K/yr...NICE!!). Your pilot light is still lit and that's awesome!

    So maybe trick yourself into getting after it...call it exposure therapy, call it anything you like. Straddle the bike for a while...Flintstone a circle or two in the driveway. Maybe do a spin up and down the street & call it good for the day. Next time tack on a mile or so in the safest place you can find. Build from there. Keep your expectations modest and don't rush things. Things may never be the same as before and that's okay. They don't have to be.

    Other thoughts: meditation/visualization has always helped me work up to the good stuff and come down from the bad stuff. Maybe consider an indoor trainer as well for muscle memory/confidence building.

    Best of luck! And most of all, glad you're up and about!

    Cheers,
    CT

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    Back in '99 I broke my patella into 6 pieces in a mountain bike crash. That required two surgeries and a lot of rehab. I didn't even get any cool titanium upgrades like you. Unlike you, I was dying to get back on the bike and started riding a trainer as soon as I regained enough flexibility to pedal. Maybe some time on one of those new fancy trainers or the good ol' rollers would get you started?

    Regardless, I wouldn't be in a hurry. You mentioned riding big mileage (at least by my standards). Its ok to take time off the bike. You'll be amazed how tender your butt has gotten when you get back in the saddle.

    The whole experience changed cycling for me. Afterwards I had too much pain to really put the hammer down and my appetite for racing pretty much went out the window. I could go on and on, but I think you will know when you are ready to get back on the bike and you might discover a different type of riding or style of riding is more interesting to you now?

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    First off, I am so sorry that you have had to deal with this. A broken femur is not even remotely fun.

    Second, I know your pain all too well. In 2001, after my cycling career had pretty much just began, I had a pretty nasty crash and broadsided a tree, breaking my back among several other injuries. Several surgeries (also with a lot of titanium) and three months of skilled care rehab before I could return to a somewhat normal life.

    After that, I really REALLY wanted to get back into cycling, even just riding a bike around town (I was in college when all of this happened and all of my friends rode bikes). Unfortunately, fear is a very real thing. It took me two years just to get back on a bike after that and three years before I could start mountain biking again.

    And then... In 2011, while being stupid on my mountain bike, I fell and re-fractured two of the vertebrae. Luckily, recovery from this injury was a bit more straight forward and after three months, my doctors told me I could get back on a bike, but absolutely NO mountain biking for at least a year. Also luckily, I had made some wonderful cycling friends who were adamant that I was going to get back on the bike much sooner than two years later.

    So here is my advice:
    1) Get a trainer (NOT rollers) if you do not already have one. Start by cycling indoors where there are no hazards and you can not fall off the bike. If you have a friend that can bring their trainer and bike over, it makes it way more fun.
    2) Once you get confident on the trainer, have a cycling friend come by and start doing short rides around your neighbourhood where there is minimal traffic and no seams in the pavement. Having the support and distraction of a friend does so much more to ease fear than anything else.
    3) Gradually increase your circle. Do what you feel you are up to. And always ALWAYS end each ride on a good note. One thing that I have learned through my ordeals is that once fear is rooted in your brain, it never really goes away. You can not force yourself to immediately get over a fear, it has to be gradual. With mountain biking, I am still terrified of re-injuring myself. Over the past five years that I have been back on the MTB, I have basically had to re-learn how to ride. I have made a lot of progress, but there are still some things that my brain just will not let me do. (If you have ever been riding with me, you have most likely seen this in action.)

    You will probably get frustrated with yourself, but know that you are not alone. You can get past this, you just have to have patience, determination, and a good group of cycling buddies. Oh, and beer helps, too.

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    Having not had to endure something so traumatic just yet, I can only offer my deepest sympathy if not true empathy.

    That said, it sounds like just typing up this post is an important step! I can't describe how helpful this community has been in encouraging me to ride more, answer questions, and giving whole new community feeling to cycling. As you may have seen, there is so much experience (and opinion!) in these pages that I hope it helps break down some of the understandable mental/emotional/reflexive walls, and builds bridges back into biking.

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    Perhaps in your mind "cycling" is the full commitment it was before, and the prospect of what it will take to get back to that is too daunting. It need not be any particular level of commitment. There are people on this forum who ride that much, some who ride half that, some who ride a fraction of that. There are even some who ride pretty modest amounts, but enjoy it whenever they do. I think that what I'm saying is that it need not be any commitment, just going out and riding when it's fun to do so, and not when it isn't. If it doesn't happen that it clicks for you again the same way, that's not a failure.

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    I'm very sorry to hear about your injury but glad that you're able to become active again. I'm lucky to not have suffered the serious injury that you and some of the other forum members have endured.

    I've biked every single day for the past 13 months and I've had plenty of days that I didn't want to ride and a few days where I was having a complete mental breakdown. (I nearly quit Freezing Saddles this year during a really bad day.) I've been saved multiple times by good friends that have invited me along for short rides on the bad days. Scheduling a ride with a friend seems to always help me stay or get back into the groove. There's multiple folks on the forum (including me) that would be happy to go on a ride with you if it will help get you back in the saddle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sunyata View Post

    So here is my advice:
    1) Get a trainer (NOT rollers) if you do not already have one. Start by cycling indoors where there are no hazards and you can not fall off the bike. If you have a friend that can bring their trainer and bike over, it makes it way more fun.
    2) Once you get confident on the trainer, have a cycling friend come by and start doing short rides around your neighbourhood where there is minimal traffic and no seams in the pavement. Having the support and distraction of a friend does so much more to ease fear than anything else.
    3) Gradually increase your circle. Do what you feel you are up to. And always ALWAYS end each ride on a good note. One thing that I have learned through my ordeals is that once fear is rooted in your brain, it never really goes away. You can not force yourself to immediately get over a fear, it has to be gradual. With mountain biking, I am still terrified of re-injuring myself. Over the past five years that I have been back on the MTB, I have basically had to re-learn how to ride. I have made a lot of progress, but there are still some things that my brain just will not let me do. (If you have ever been riding with me, you have most likely seen this in action.)
    Sunyata's advice here is the exact path I followed this past year when I tore the cartilage in my hip and had to have surgery + 4 months of really painful PT. Although my injury was not traumatic (more of a "slowly tear yourself apart" injury), being on a bike still scared the daylights out of me. Re-injuring myself during the first 6-12 months could have led to a hip replacement in my early 30s, which would have been REALLY bad for many reasons not involving cycling (having kids, dealing with other daily activities, etc). My first time back on the bike outside I had to sit on my bike and just hold still for a few minutes to psych myself up to move. But being on a trainer before going on the road helped me build confidence, which is why I really think that idea is great.

    If for some reason your neighborhood doesn't have an easy loop, or has really crazy traffic, there's a few really nice parks around here that can work. Hains Point in DC, Fort Hunt park in Alexandria come to mind. I drove over to Fort Hunt Park early weekend mornings and did the flat 1 mile loop a few times once I was ready to try real riding again, just to get myself comfortable on a mostly car-free, flat, quiet road.

    As a few others have said, don't look at cycling as a major commitment. Just look at it as something fun you do. I used to bike 4-5 days a week for commuting, plus 60-100 miles every weekend. Coming back from my injury, I tried commuting 1-2x a week once I worked up to handling my commute distance, and /maybe/ 10 miles on a weekend if I had the time. It was really tough to get myself out of the "bike all the time" mindset, but honestly, it was critical for my healing to do that. So I set small goals (bike to work 1x a week at first, then 2, now 3, add in a weekend ride) slowly over the past 8 months, and honestly, it's worked really well.

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    From your description, it sounds like you're in your mid 40's, maybe 50. You may (though I do not presume) think that you've hit the point that another serious accident may essentially leave you permanently physically impaired.

    You can change your riding to be even more conservative (though that accident sounds freakishly random). Festoon yourself with lights. Ride only segregated infra or lightly travelled roads. Fatter tires. Whatever. There are those who care about how they appear to other riders. I am not one of them.

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