Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Case of Brittle Biker Bones

Many of us have heard the research that non-impact sports, like cycling, affect bone mass negatively. In other words, if you are a dedicated cyclist, and do little weight-bearing exercise, your bones are likely to be thinner and thus more frail than your next door neighbor who runs and lifts weights.

And almost every cyclist you know has broken a bone before, usually the collarbone first, if not in a race, then on the streets getting doored, or in similar accidents. 

When I broke my collarbone in a dooring on 168th Street and Riverside Drive in 2000, I felt like I had finally entered the ranks of serious cyclists. Then on a trip 
to Cuba to film the PanAmerican Championships put on by a previous president of the US Cycling Federation, Mike Fraysse, he told me he had broken his collarbone some seven times. In every case he just had the break bolted, and was back on his bike--racing--within a couple of weeks.

This year add to the list Lance Armstrong who broke his collarbone, and Christian Van de Velde, who fractured six bones--including in his spine-- in the Giro D'Italia in May.  Both riders plan to race in the Tour de France which BBB will cover this year--Armstrong for the Astana Team and Vande Velde for Garmin-Slipstream. 
Today an article in the New York Times took the theory of brittle biker bones a little further. The article reports on recent research that supp
orts the theory that in addition to non-weight bearing activity being a factor in bone loss, so is very competitive cycling where racers sweat a lot.

In one of the studies where riders were given calcium-enriched drinks, they lost less bone mass than those who just drank water. The study also found recovery of bone loss among triathletes after the training season began. 

But eerily, the top riders who were tested were found to have bone mass loss in their spines of all things.  In another study by cyclist Aaron Smathers, a graduate student in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at the University of Oklahoma, serious cyclists were found to have osteopenia in their spines, "a medical condition only one step below full-blown osteoporosis," according to the Times article.

In 2003 I interviewed the renowned retired judge Arnold Fraiman who was always in Central Park doing laps at the ripe age of over 65, (who while he presided over the infamous case 
involving the Puerto Rican anarchist group, the FALN, was assigned an armed guard to accompany him at all times,) who said the biggest problem with cycling was simply "broken bones." Well most of us know that breaking our bones have to do with speed and distance from the hard ground.  

But this article sent a chill down my----spine. 

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