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Olecranon Fracture Posts Zwift

Using Zwift for Fractured Elbow Rehabilitation with Wahoo KICKR

One of the bits of advice I have had from the physiotherapist is to try and keep active during my cycling injury rehabilitation. Keep my heart rate up to help improve the blood flow to the healing olecranon fracture. The best thing, is they are happy for me to do that on Zwift!

This is has been a slighted delayed posted  – as while I have had permission to get onto the Wahoo KICKR and go Zwifting, actually doing so turned out to be a much bigger step for me than I have considered!

Let me be honest, getting back on the bike, even though I was told I could use Zwift, was hard work. Not physically hard work, but mentally hard work. Even though the height increase for my elbow is only increased by about 1-2cm getting onto the KICKR, that’s still quite a height when you are one arm down, and feeling rather… vulnerable. I appreciate the the Wahoo KICKR probably one of the most planted turbos you can buy, but my ability to move quickly, for example to stop of fall, was almost zero. Combined with a lot of fear, this wasn’t a good way to try and get back on the bike in any shape or form!

It actually took me several weeks after I told I was allowed cycling indoors to actually pluck up the courage to get back on it. Just the mental concern of potentially falling off the trainer was very frightening, and I was surprised about the number of things which could trigger that fear response.

Fear was not something I was expecting to cause me any issues. It really struck home for me, that getting back on the bike would be as much a mental challenge as a physical challenge when watching TopGear. Sitting on the couch, watching Richard Hammond fall off his bike whilst racing through Russia was very unpleasant. Mentally not what I needed for my cycling injury rehabilitation

Even just this television fall had me wincing and turning away as if I’d just witnessed some sort of terrible car crash. I don’t think it’s melodramatic to say that after watching that episode the actual crash was on my mind a lot that evening. Lying in bed reliving the milliseconds that were the actual event, as daft as that may sound was actually the catalyst to get me back on the turbo trainer. Partially as I had been advised the cardiovascular exercise would be good for my cycling injury rehabilitation, but also because I thought it might help me get back onto the bike, eventually. To be clear, any form of cardiovascular exercise is useful post fracture, as it helps improve blood flow to the site. This is not limited to cycling injury rehabilitation, upper or lower leg injuries

Thankfully the Wahoo KICKR is built like a tank, when I actually plucked up the courage to get back on the bike I knew I’d actually have to be trying to knock the bike over in order to get the turbo to move. But when has rational thought ever been able to overcome a fear?

Getting back on the bike

Some turbo trainers come with a small riser block to help steady the front wheel/not mark the carpet that they are on. Even thought the wahoo KICKR is seriously planted, that doesn’t really help the front wheel. So in order to help my confidence, prior to getting back on the turbo, I ordered a Cycleops Riser Block

Cycling injury rehabilitation

Basically I purchased the biggest, blacked, most over kill riser block I could find! The Cycleops Riser is built very much in the same philosophy as the Wahoo KICKR – “overkill or nothing”. As such this riser allows you a very stable base, and as a bonus also lets you chose three heights at which you want to position the front wheel

Cycling after fractured elbow

With the Wahoo KICKR in place, Zwift booted up, and the front wheel secured I was sufficiently happy to get back on the bike!

Physiotherapy on the bike.

By using Zwift, and the KICKR, I was able to get my heart rate up, admittedly only gingerly to 120-130bpm – and things happened exactly as had been suggested by the physiotherapist. – Specifically, the swelling or oedema in my fractured elbow began to settle. The idea being as you increase your heart rate, so the flow of blood the injury ALSO increases, helping move the fluid out of the tissues, and crucially supply the healing elbow fracture with increased nutrients. This was backed up as I actually found that I was able to move the arm slightly more after having done a Zwift session compared to just doing my physiotherapy exercises normally. The enabled me to move a little bit further with my stretches, and was reflected the following week by the physiotherapist, who was impressed with my increased range of movement.
Initially, when doing stretches at the elbow, you are using your unaffected arm to stretch out the broken one.
Cycling injury rehabilitation

Forced elbow extension

However, as the muscles on the broken arm gradually loosen, the force you need to apply to the affected arm in order to straighten it begins to increase – I’ve now reached the stage I’m causing a bruise on my forearm from gripping things. So it then became an issue of how can I stretch the arm more easily?? I tried suggestions such as pushing against a flat wall, or doing biceps stretches against the table, just wasn’t working for me – then I thought about people “locking out” their elbows when cycling, and a lightbulb came on!

Physiotherapy Bike Stretches

So the theory of trying to do bicep stretches pressing against the handlebars is good in theory – but again fear is an issue –  I still  can’t fully lock my arm out, it feels as thought my arm will collapse inwards. Which could potentially cause a significant injury to my healing fracture site.

On my first KICKR ride, I noticed it was a stretch to reach the bars initially with my RIGHT hand.

Cycling injury rehabilitation

poor reach initially

 To the degree I actually found I was affecting my posture quite considerable in order to reach the bars
Cycling injury rehabilitation

poor posture and a flexed RIGHT arm

In the above picture you can see how the arm doesn’t fully straighten when asked to, so leaving me to unconsciously bending over to cover the distance to the bars. Certainly this didn’t look like it was going to be compatible with getting out on the road again!

However, when stretching my RIGHT arm by using my good LEFT arm, the arm straightens much more than I can with the arm alone. I quickly realised the same thing was possible on the bike.

cycling injury rehabilitation

Stretch to the bars

cycling injury rehabilitation

Stretch both hands to the bars

cycling injury rehabilitation

Additional bar positions checking for reach

My holding onto the handle bars, I could push against, or down, from the arms forcing the arm to straighten. I would then be able to maintain this position for the recommended 3-4 minutes. After having completed a stretch in one position, I would then be able to stretch in another. effectively killing three birds with one stone:

– Helping me stretch without having to grip my fore-arm

– Getting back on the bike

– Performing stretches whilst also doing cardiovascular training.

Slowly but surely cycling injury rehabilitation is working!

I genuinely feel that the extra force I have been able to put through the arm to straighten it has had a great effect on the degree of extension I have managed to get back so far. Also by griping the bars firmly, both when doing my Zwift rehabilitation sessions I have found the grip in my RIGHT hand seems to have improved significantly as well. Using Zwift here has really been a great benefit to me mentally. The challenges and things, not that I’m really able to push hard currently, but they are meaning I’m actually wanting to spend time on Zwift and using the KICKR! This is something I’ve never experienced before!

Plus doing little spins of the island, is giving me something additional to aim for compared to just sitting spinning my legs for set time periods.

Hopefully I’ll be out on the bike for real before long!

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