A Cyclist’s Step-by-Step Guide to Treating Road Rash

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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A Cyclist’s Step-by-Step Guide to Treating Road Rash

Crashing on the bike is painfully unfortunate and generally inevitable. Even if you remain relatively injury-free you’ll still be left to lick your wounds. Here’s what you need to do to properly treat road rash from a crash.

WHAT IS ROAD RASH?

Road rash is a skin abrasion that occurs when you scrape layers of skin against the road (or gravel) during a crash on the bike. Most of the time this injury is minor, even though it can be quite painful (especially in the shower). In severe cases, where multiple layers of skin have been removed during the fall, skin grafting surgery can be performed to help the skin heal properly without infection.

The good news is most cases can be treated at home without medical intervention. Below is a step-by-step guide for treating minor road rash injuries that can occur from cycling.

HOW TO TREAT IT

After you’ve treated any severe injuries like broken bones, concussions or bleeding, treating your wounds comes next. You want to address it as soon as possible to prevent infection. Assess how deep your wounds are to determine the severity. For deep wounds or wounds where you can see globules of fat, you’ll want to head to a professional. Go to the emergency room for wound debridement and sutures.

If the wounds aren’t too deep, you can probably do this job yourself. Step number 1 is to rinse the wound with water. The goal is to remove as much dirt or debris as possible. If water doesn’t do the trick and your wounds are still dirty after rinsing, wound washes are a good option. A light scrub may also be needed, but avoid any aggressive scrubbing that can make the wound deeper.

Dressing a wound promotes healing and prevents dirt and other debris from getting into the wound during the stages of healing. For minor cases of road rash, applying an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment like Neosporin and covering with bandages or gauze for a week or so until the skin heals should be sufficient to prevent infection.

Deeper wounds can be treated the same way, just make sure you apply antibiotic ointment to the deeper parts of the wound. Always clean deeper wounds daily and redress. For more severe injuries where leakage is an issue, try bandages that seal off the wound. A healthcare professional may also be able to apply a dressing and bandage to deeper wounds that can be left on for several days to a week so you won’t have to worry about changing quite as often.

Keeping an eye on your wound is important to check for signs of infection. Clean the wound daily with warm water, let it air dry and redress to keep the wound moist unless otherwise instructed by a physician. If you notice swelling, redness, heat or a foul-smelling discharge during your dressing changes, you may have an infection. Head to your doctor to treat the wound properly and receive a prescription for antibiotics. Pain is also an indicator professional help may be needed.

Once the skin heals and a new pink layer of skin has developed, the wound will no longer need to be covered with gauze or other bandages, though you can continue to apply ointment as necessary. Keep in mind new skin is more sensitive, so sun exposure should be kept to a minimum. Wear loose-fitting clothing until the wound is fully healed to prevent friction, which can delay the healing process.

Scarring is likely any time you’ve torn the skin. Some cyclists may not mind the scarring, as it is proof of your battle wounds. For those of us who’d rather not be reminded, there is not much you can do to speed the healing process and reduce scarring. Most doctors recommend avoiding the sun, and, in time, the scar gets less noticeable.

Daily massages may help break up scar tissue, but these treatments often require you to adhere to them for months following the injury. Sun exposure can be tough for cyclists during the warmer months if you have multiple areas of concern, since you’ll need to cover these wounds while you ride for up to a year or more.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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