Lance Armstrong had successful surgery in Austin, Texas Wednesday, to repair what doctors originally thought was a “simple” fracture of his clavicle, or collar bone.
“This was not correct,” said Dr. Doug Elenz, an orthopedic surgeon who frequently operates on athletes in Austin, Texas. “It was not in two, but four pieces.”
Dr. Elenz, along with another surgeon and physician’s assistant, used a five-inch stainless steel plate with 12 screws to repair Armstrong’s fracture. He noted that this was more than they would normally use, but necessary based on the extent of the fracture.
“If you had to pin me down, I’d say it was an eight,” he said when asked how difficult the surgery was on a scale of 1-10. The surgery, which normally takes less than 90 minutes for a simple fracture, took slightly less than three hours and also included working on some of Armstrong’s abrasions from the crash.
“No one’s ever accused me of being the fastest surgeon in the world,” Dr. Elenz quipped, “I think we should be expedient, methodical and get it right the first time.”
Armstrong would not spend the night in the hospital but soon be taken to his home in Austin to recuperate. In terms of rehabilitation, the doctor wants Armstrong to take it easy for a week to let the wound heal, then start back into aerobic training using some form of stationary exercise bike so as not use his upper extremities, and then they’d see about getting back on the road.
As expected, many of the questions revolved around when Armstrong would be able to be back on the bike training, if not racing.
“Normally we see 8-12 weeks for something like this to heal completely,” Dr. Elenz said, stressing the word ‘completely’. He went on to say that it would be a day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month progression as they first looked for radiographic union (evidence of bone growth), a stable fracture with no plate movement, increased arm motion and fluidity, and Armstrong’s own pain factor.
While Dr. Elenz would not give a firm date on when he expected Armstrong to return to racing, he said that it will heal and he needs to give it time so he can get back to racing.