Maintaining Fitness With Broken Arm

I fractured my elbow over the weekend. Arm is in a splint and sling. Will be having surgery tomorrow to reattach the section of bone that has been displaced. When asked about a time frame to return to running and cycling I was told 12 weeks. When asked about a stationary bike the surgeon said maybe after 6 weeks. I can understand there being concern with bouncing and vibration while running or cycling outdoors but with my arm immobilized what risk is there to using a stationary bike? Is there some sort of risk with elevating my heart rate? Would there be any risk associated with doing lower body strength exercises with machines at the gym. My post op instructions state to remove my sling and exercise the shoulder several times a day. Wouldn’t this put more risk to the elbow than a stationary bike. I also have an appointment in 3 weeks to be fitted for a removable splint and start pt which confuses me even more about why 6 weeks before I can use a stationary bike.

I am not a doctor, and in the long view of things 6 weeks is a pretty short period and it’s not worth worse complications by pushing it too far.

But… if I were in your shoes I’d be asking the same questions. And I’d probably try to rig up a way to ride the trainer. You know, like this guy who won freaking Paris-Roubaix a few weeks later (as seen in Butter):

So, again, not a doctor and this is probably a bad idea but after a week or two I’d be trying this. Doing very easy and stopping at any sign of discomfort or pain.


Everyone heals differently, but a 6-12 week time frame is not unusual. Any questions you ask here should definitely be asked of your medical team.

You can always have your doctor check on your progress to see if you can start earlier. When I was 60, I broke my collarbone. With medical approval I was back on the exercise bicycle, and then road biking, faster than anyone expected. On the other hand, it does depend on the nature of the injury. I healed without surgery, and recovery from surgery is a process in and of itself.

The purpose of exercising the shoulder is probably to avoid problems from lack of movement over a long period of time. Again, ask your medical team.

Have you considered vigorous walking as a way to maintain some fitness? Check with your medical team.

Usual disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I even play one on TV.

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Not a doctor here, either.

I have been in that situation and in my specific case it was explained to me that not only vibrations were a concern, but also the energy needed by the body to heal.

Please believe me that in my case fitness was not the issue, my splintered elbow was.

I closely communicated with my doc and at some point after looking at a fresh set of x-rays I got the go ahead for riding a fixed amount of time every other day in a very specific HR zone. That was not close to „training“.

Fwiw, when I got the permission to ride, I propped my front wheel on two or three years worth of cycling magazines and adjusted the saddle to be level again. That way I had way less weight on the one arm that held on to the bar.

To the question about the exercises you’ve been advised to do ring more risky vs stationary bike.

Absolutely not. That shoulder mobilisation and subsequent slow and controlled movement must be within the allowable range and speed of motion that the doctor thinks is fine and you’d be doing those exercises while concentrating on that only.

When people are distracted by exercise they can forget about the thing they’re trying to also protect. That’s just human nature.

I would personally would do absolutely zero until you see the doctor again in three weeks and then ask the consultant (or whoever you see in different countries as it’s always a different system everywhere) again then.

Not a doctor. Just a MTB’er who’s broken stuff, and always ended up fitter after the enforced 6W break and a bit of training.

Edited to fix rubbish sentences/grammar

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latest evidence supports early loading to speed up healing. we have patients up and walking without crutches after lower extremity fracture repair half a day after surgery.
full weight bearing is key.

I’m fully aware that this is all lower extremity, but it might be worth asking your doctor why cycling with not putting any load on the elbow shouldn’t be possible

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Talk to sports orthopedic docs. They better understand the importance of getting back to training. I broke my collar bone. First doc I consulted said 12 weeks. Two sports orthos I consulted said I could ride as soon as I felt like it, just don’t crash on it again. I was riding 10 days after breaking it.

Broke wrist (and badly bruised other bits) in August in a low speed off. Cycling was impossible even on turbo due to pain. Walked an awful lot. Cast swapped for splint after 4 weeks and could then just manage 30 mins gentle turbo. Walked a lot and did lower body gym stuff. By 12 weeks all was ok. Was jogging and turboing by then. Listen to your body, play the long game. Heal well.

Better to take it easy than not. Marq Marquez is probably an outlier case but a warning for trying to come back too quickly. Reinjury is often worse than just waiting to heal properly…

Had 2 screws put in my elbow today. Same doctor that told my 3 weeks before I could use a stationary bike said 2 weeks today. Said walking and lower body strength training with machines was ok as soon as I feel up to after the surgery. A lot happier with those instructions. Still won’t be ready to run my races in march but the group ride I was registered fir mid April looks like it may be possible. Might have to switch from doing the metric century. The 200 mile gravel race in June is still looking iffy tho.