I had good news and bad news from the orthopedist yesterday.
The good news is that I had a very clean break! Just a sliver of separated bone. There is little to no swelling at the break site. There will probably be no ligament damage. I have full feeling everywhere on my arm, and full movement everywhere below the shoulder. Therefore I am already cleared to take my arm out of the sling for moments to hours (whatever feels comfortable) with only a few restrictions:
- no movement of my arm laterally away from my shoulder
- no weight bearing activity whatsoever with my left arm
- if I feel any pain, stop doing whatever triggered the pain.
She encouraged me to walk as much as I like and was agreeable to the idea of a bike trainer (a device that turns your bike into a stationary cycle machine) as long as I don’t use my left arm. I don’t yet own a bike trainer but now I’m looking into getting one! She did warn me that I’ll quickly lose muscle strength and endurance over the coming weeks, and that I should not be looking for another PR when I run (or walk… we’ll see…) the NODM half marathon on June 1.
Now for the bad news.
My arm broke in a way that should not have happened from a “standing fall.” That is, the force of the left forearm hitting the ground is not normally enough to crack the humerus where it meets the shoulder. However, I was running (which added X amount of force) slightly downhill (which added another Y amount of force). You’ll remember from your high school algebra that X and Y are unknown and variable. Maybe it was enough force to justify the break, or maybe not. We don’t have any data on the forces at play in this case.
But I have a history of a previous fracture that “should not” have happened. I broke a bone in my left foot when I missed the last step of a flight way back in 2001. The chronic, lingering foot pain after that accident was the very thing that inspired me to start running in the first place! Now after 5+ years of fracture-free running I may have increased my bone density from the hips down. Everywhere else may be a different story.
Bottom line, the doctor is almost certain that I have osteoporosis. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known for years that I have almost all the risk factors:
- I’m female
- I’m white
- I’m slim and always have been
- I had an early (surgical) menopause
- I now live at a high latitude where I get little sun exposure for much of the year (I do take supplemental vitamin D)
- I’ve had a previous fracture
- A DEXA scan at the time of my previous fracture showed that I already had osteopenia (borderline low bone density)
As for the few risk factors I don’t have:
- I don’t have a family history of osteoporosis
- I’ve never smoked.
As I say, this doesn’t come as a surprise. I run, cycle, hike, and walk with a conscious awareness that these activities are good for my bones (and for lots of other reasons). But somehow I’ve never gotten sufficiently motivated to do any weight training or other exercise above the hips.
All of that is about to change. Time to break out the hand weights! Time to start hiking with a heavier pack!
I’m scheduled for a bone density test in a few weeks. I’ll be tested in at least two places (my wrist and somewhere lower) so I’ll get an idea of how helpful the running has been for my bones.
After that, I suppose there will be a treatment plan, which I hope will include an exercise program to limit the damage and keep me as active and healthy as possible. I recently met a runner who took up running after her osteoporosis diagnosis and is doing just fine. So I have every reason to be optimistic.
Meanwhile I’ll start physical therapy on my arm on April 17, which will be two weeks after my injury. I’m looking forward to that!
And later on this misty, mild April afternoon I’ll go for a nice long walk. The activity streak shall endure.
One step at a time!