Road Rash and Friction Burns


If you have ever grabbed onto a moving rope, or a dog lead, you have probably had what is called a friction burn. This is where something abrasively rubs against your skin and, due to the friction between the two, causes a lot of heat to be generated. This burns the outer layers of skin and will be very painful.

In cycling, a similar sort of thing happens if you fall off of your bike at high speeds. However, these are much more dangerous than your average friction burns. There are many more factors that come into play after an accident like this. First of all, there is the crash itself, you may have been hit by a fast-moving car, or you may have just misjudged going around a corner too quickly. The initial impact can be devastating depending on how fast you are going, and where and how you land. Once you hit the floor, however, you will skid. This causes a lot of friction, whether that be between the road and your skin, or the road and whatever clothes you are wearing, so lycra, polyester, or just regular clothing.

Crashes as Higher Speeds

At higher speeds, this friction will be enough to actually break through even some of the stronger clothing like your Lycras and polyesters. This then causes your skin to be in contact with the road. On any sort of concreted road, there will basically always be tiny bits of gravel on the surface. When your skin brushes against this, the grit will get stuck in the wound and this can cause problems. This is what we call road rash – when the outer layers of skin have come off and commonly bits of grit or gravel get stuck in the wound.

Because this wound has broken layers of skin, our bodies’ natural barrier of infection, we are then liable to harmful pathogens entering our body. First of all, if the road rash is bad – or there are more pressing injuries to deal with such as broken bones, head or spine injuries or serious or catastrophic bleeds – you need to clean the wound and get any grit out.

Cleaning Road Rash

This should preferably be with antiseptic wipes. However, if you are at home, you can use a tougher sponge in the shower. This will sting as the nerve endings will already be damaged. Nonetheless, that few moments of pain would be worth it to prevent a prolonged infection. If the impact with the ground was quite severe but you are okay to go home, you may want to cover an ice pack and, in short, but frequent periods, cool the wound. This will reduce swelling in the affected area and will hopefully help to a quicker recovery.

Something else that can cause more pain with road rash is if something sticks to it. This is normally something like clothing or your bedding. So if possible, in the day, try and keep it as exposed to the air as possible. This aids the healing of damaged tissues and blood vessels. If this is not possible, for example, either the wound is too big or is in an awkward place, then you should cover it with a non-adhesive dressing. This also applies at night so your duvet doesn’t stick to it. This will allow you to cover the area whilst still ensuring that nothing will stick to it.

Minor injuries should heal after a few days, but larger cases can take around 2 weeks to heal. Again, this all depends on how the accident happened. Therefore you can closely monitor the wound and if it is serious, seek medical help.

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