Road Rash: What It Is and How to Avoid It
Road rashes are caused by bicyclists or motorcyclists crashing their bikes, hitting or sliding across the pavement, causing painful abrasions. Abrasions are wounds to the skin that may be so mild that they don't require a bandage or severe enough to permeate the skin. There are three degrees of road rash with treatment depending on the degree of the abrasion.
- First degree road rash causes reddened skin similar to a rug burn that needs no treatment.
- Second degree road rash involves the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, which breaks open at the surface. The skin underneath remains intact, thus leaving little risk for scar tissue. Treatment for second degree road rash ranges from letting it scab over to using topical antibiotic, although some physicians advise against using any topical application.
- Third degree road rash requires immediate medical attention as the epidermis, which is five layers deep, opens up to fat and may cause significant structural damage. This injury is severe, prone to infection, and treatment may include plastic surgery.
To treat first and second degree road rash, do not scrub the wound site. Doing so may damage underlying tissue and cause scarring to occur. Allowing the rash to scab over may promote scarring, so it is preferable to irrigate or rinse the abrasion with saline solution without rubbing the injured skin. Applying a hydrogel patch such as Tegaderm keeps the abrasion covered, moist, and promotes healing.
Third degree road rash requires immediate medical treatment to reduce permanent damage to underlying structures such as muscle and tendon as well as to virulent, life-threatening infection. This level of rash can mean hospital stays, physical therapy, and weeks of healing.
Avid cyclists are not the only ones to suffer road rash. Children frequently fall off their bicycles and often receive abrasions akin to road rash, although most times, children are not cycling at speeds that older children and adults do, unless they are in competition.
Whether in competition, riding the road, or bicycling at home, prevention means being proactive when riding a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle. Know your bike and the safe way to ride it. Wear the proper gear: helmet, and pads, and jacket, chaps, and gloves if riding a motorcycle or other road cycle. Do not speed, follow all rules of the road, leave your skin intact and eliminate being another statistic .
Road rash is entirely preventable. Do not panic should it occur, although it may be quite painful. Remember to wash and irrigate the wounds, do not rub the wounds; and, for third degree road rash, go to the emergency room and have the professionals care for the wound to reduce potential damage.