ABCNews.com—March 24, 2009
Armstrong fell off his bike in a pile-up in the final 12 miles of the 109-mile first stage in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon race in Spain. The injury took the seven-time Tour de France champion out of the Spanish race and landed him back home in the United States to await treatment, according to Phillippe Maertens, a spokesman for Armstrong's Team Astana.
"I'm alive! Broken clavicle (right). Hurts like hell for now," Armstrong, who was competing in just his third stage race and fourth competition overall since coming out of retirement this year, tweeted on the social networking site, Twitter. "Surgery in a couple of days. Thanks for all the well wishes."
Sports medicine experts say that although collarbone fractures are extremely painful, they often heal on their own. In fact, it's sometimes possible for cyclists to train indoors during healing and in some cases undergo surgery to speed up their recovery.
"Sometimes athletes - and this happens in Europe among soccer players - they're actually treated surgically to get them back on the field more quickly," said Dr. Frank A. Cordasco, an orthopedic surgeon on the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
If the break is simple, Cordasco said it's possible for doctors to insert a titanium rod to stabilize the bone and speed up the healing process.
"You put a small flexible rod through the middle of the bone and it fixes the fracture and enables the fracture to heal," he said.
But if the collarbone broke in multiple places, Cordasco said Armstrong might have to undergo a more complicated procedure with a series of metal plates and screws.
Cordasco said a person's pain tolerance can also sometimes determine time off from competition.
Cyclist Tyler Hamilton sustained a clavicle fracture during the 2003 Tour de France, and was actually able to finish in fourth place.
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