All of us cyclists, at one time or another, have fallen off our bikes. Some of us do it more often, some of us do it less often, but if you ride a bike on pavement, chances are at one time or another you have found yourself a little bit closer to that pavement than you would otherwise like!
The momentum of our fall tends to lead to us sliding along the pavement, and these skin abrasions that we experience are commonly referred to as “road rash.”
Is road rash life threatening? No. But does it hurt like the devil? YES. Absolutely, 100 times, YES!
When I experienced my first bad crash that led to a fancy ambulance ride and multiple stitches above my eyebrow, it was actually not the cut over my eye that hurt or bothered me, or even took a long time to heal.
It was absolutely all of the road rash I experienced along the left side of my body that was the most uncomfortable.
Parts of skin were scraped off my shoulder, my arm, my thigh, and a part of my calf. My road rash bled/oozed for a few days after this. Then, after it started to scab over and heal, it itched like CRAZY!
The good news is that through this experience I became pretty adept at treating road rash at home, and learned how to make myself as comfortable as possible through the process. When I told my husband I was writing this article on how to treat road rash, his first words, I kid you not, were “Well…you would know.”
In this article, I share my best tips for treating that road rash and getting it to heal up quickly with (hopefully!) minimal scarring.
Please note: I am a casual cyclist, not a doctor. Be sure to seek medical treatment from a professional if any of your abrasions or cuts seem like they are too deep, too inflamed, or are not healing properly. When in doubt, get it checked out!
Before you treat road rash: determine the overall severity of your injury
Any time you fall off your bike you want to do a quick self-assessment and just see how everything is feeling. Remember that the adrenaline that you might feel after the fall can mask something that is a little more serious, so you definitely want to give your brain and your body a little break, slow down, and see what’s what.
This is when it’s super helpful to cycle with a friend or a group! They can help, and keep you on the ground when you are so eager to jump up and get back on the bike.
Check your helmet/head…did you hit your head? If so you need to be extra careful and see if you are experiencing any concussion symptoms (nausea, confusion, not remembering the fall/events before the fall, loss of consciousness).
Concussions are serious business. If you are experiencing symptoms DO NOT get back on the bike and call for help immediately.
Next, check your body/bones/joints…can you wiggle and move everything OK? Are you experiencing any pain?
And finally, check for bleeding, cuts, etc. How deep are the cuts? Can you see anything “fatty”? If you see your fat, you definitely need to seek medical attention. You certainly want to use common sense here! If cuts do not appear that deep, everything seems to be on the surface, if you are looking at a scrape or abrasion, you are likely dealing with road rash.
Again, when in doubt always seek the guidance of a medical professional and get it checked out.
Yup, this is definitely road rash, now what?
Once you are feeling confident that you are dealing with classic road rash, and you have either consulted a doctor or determined you just have some scrapes, you want to start taking steps to treat it. Untreated road rash can lead to infection, and no one wants that!
Step 1: Clean the wound as thoroughly as possible
You actually can and should start this process right away, while still on the road. You want to get the wound clean before blood starts to dry and trap dirt and gravel bits inside. Use clean water from your water bottle and try to get as much dirt as possible out of the wound(s) right away.
Unless you are cycling with a first aid kit/gauze in your jersey pockets (and bless you if you are, I am not ever quite this prepared!) you probably don’t want to do anything other than just run water over it for now until you can get somewhere to clean the wound properly.
[Note: it’s a great idea to carry a small first aid kit in your saddle bag. There are kits made specifically for cyclists like the Hero Kit Crash Pack*.]
Once you have a sink near you use mild, soapy water to clean around the outside of the wound, and just rinse the wound itself with plain water. You probably don’t want to rub anything like crazy, but you can also gently use a cloth/some gauze to try to dab out any dirt or gravel (OUCH) stuck in there that you can see.
Step 2: Dress the wound
When you have the wound all cleaned out, you are going to want to cover it in some sort of way. How you do this is really pretty subjective and up to personal preference, the size/shape of the wound(s), and what you happen to have on hand for supplies.
We have three cyclists in the family, and we have all taken our fair share of tumbles on the bike. As a result, our arsenal of road rash treatment supplies is pretty well-equipped! I suggest stocking up on some of these items so you have them on hand. A trip to the pharmacy when you are covered in road rash is generally NOT considered a good time.
After your wound is clean, you will want to apply either bacitracin or a triple antibiotic ointment like Neosporin*.
Please be careful and be aware that some people are allergic to these products (especially the triple antibiotic ointment/Neosporin), so be sure not to use this if it’s not a suitable fit for you or the person you are treating.
After applying the ointment (use LOTS), you will want to dress/cover the wound with a nonstick gauze* or nonstick mesh with regular gauze on top. Nonstick gauze has a shiny side to it, and will not stick to the wound, and the nonstick mesh with plenty of ointment will keep regular gauze from sticking to the wound.
You want to avoid anything that may stick to the wound. Trust me on this one! The last thing you want is to be ripping off your skin’s attempts to heal itself because your wound wasn’t properly dressed. You want this to heal quickly so you can be riding as pain free as possible, and you do NOT want to have to start all over!
After you have dressed your wound you must secure the dressing. They have non-stick dressing tape which is an option, but keep in mind you might want to wrap this all the way around your arm/leg if you use it because, well, it doesn’t actually stick very well.
A better option if it’s available to you is a tegaderm dressing* because this allows you to see the wound as it heals and has a gentle adhesive so you won’t need tape. Some opt to just use an ointment and a tegaderm dressing without the gauze which is just fine too!
At the end of the day you have a lot of options for specifically how to dress the wound. The key is to make sure that you use a dressing that doesn’t stick and that you change your dressing daily to prevent infection.
Step 3: Monitor the wound/healing process
This part can also be tricky and subjective, and many people have different opinions on it. I consulted a nurse while writing this article, and she mentioned that she really likes to give wounds exposure to air as much as possible in the healing process.
She said that any time you are out and about the wound should be covered, but if you are resting and relaxing at home, or in between dressings, it’s a great idea to just leave your wounds uncovered for a bit and let the air get to them.
Again, this is subjective, because some say that you really need to keep a wound moist in order for it to heal properly. A soft scab can sometimes lead to less scarring, but at the same time might take longer to heal, so this is a matter of personal preference.
The most important thing is to monitor the wound or wounds for any signs of infection. If you see an increase in swelling, puss, start experiencing any flu-like symptoms, or if it smells bad these are all signs that the healing process could be going south, and you will need to seek medical attention for possible infection.
Step 4: Reduce scarring
There are a number of things that you can do to reduce the scarring of your road rash. Being very attentive to the wound and helping it heal properly is key.
I personally have had great luck with a product called Mederma*. It is an anti-scarring product, and can be used as soon as the wound has closed and is no longer actively bleeding. I use it on all of my wounds, and my scarring has been relatively minimal. Even the scar above my eye that required stitches is barely visible, and I used Mederma twice a day on this wound once the stitches were out.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that newly healed skin is very sensitive to the sun, and sun exposure can increase the likelihood of scarring. Be sure to keep your wounds covered and not exposed to the sun as much as possible, and as soon as they are healed make sure to pay extra close attention to these areas when you are applying sunscreen.
Finally, once your wound is really healed and no longer has any open sores, be sure to moisturize and massage the area frequently. Massaging scar tissue breaks it up, and the moisturizer will keep your skin hydrated, which, let’s face it, is good for all of your skin, not just the areas that have been scraped off a bit!
Step 5: Rinse and repeat steps 3 and 4 until your wound is fully healed
Road rash can take up to two weeks, and sometimes even longer, to heal depending on its severity. You want to be taking steps to monitor the healing process and reduce scarring until you have your nice pink new skin, and beyond!
These areas will continue to be sensitive for a while, likely well beyond two weeks, but the little bit of extra care you give them will go a long way to ensuring that your skin heals well and you don’t have excessive scarring.
By following this simple, 5-step process, before you know it you will feel relief from your road rash and be back on the bike…wound free! Until, of course, the next fall, but we will think about that later…shall we?
More Stuff You Might Like
- Getting Back On The Saddle After A Bicycle Crash
- 9 Best Women’s Road Bike Helmets
- 13 Women’s Only Cycling Events You’ll Love
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.