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If you’ve ever wiped out on a bike, you’ve no doubt experienced road rash. Pros Tweet about the perils of trying to sleep with oozing wounds stuck to their sheets. A common cycling injury, road rash refers to a superficial injury or abrasion to the skin and its underlying tissue caused by rubbing or scraping. Need to heal fast? Follow this effective road rash treatment to avoid infection and get back on the bike in no time.
After your skin has taken a trip through the cheese grater, you’ll no doubt feel the intense stinging and pain of the abrasion. Sometimes the body’s natural pain relievers take a bit to set in, so never assume you’re okay after a crash. Stop and take an inventory of the damage and, if in doubt, seek out medical help to rule out more serious injuries.
There are a few precautions you can take to mitigate the damage, should you crash. The first is to shave your legs (see, there is a good reason to shave!). Shaving makes it easier to clean and bandage wounds following a crash. The second precaution is to wear cycling gloves when you ride to provide some protection to your hands. If you’re a mountain biker or BMXer, wear elbow or shin guards when ripping technical terrain or performing stunts.
If your wound is no larger than the palm of your hand and only a surface abrasion, follow these treatment tips. Otherwise, call your doc.
How to treat road rash at home
- Antibiotic ointment
- Gauze pads
- Alcohol wipes
- Tegaderm or Duoderm bandage (studies have shown that there are minor differences between the two)
- Start with clean hands. Then clean the area well to remove any particles, dirt or gravel. Sodium chloride works the best and using a syringe will help add the gentle pressure necessary to push out debris. You can also keep a dedicated wound cleaner like Shur-Clens, on hand.
- Use a mild, antibiotic soap and either some clean gauze or a washcloth to very gently scrub the area. This will help prevent infection.
- If debris remains in the wound, a doctor will need to professionally clean it.
- For a minor rash, doctor’s suggest applying a layer of antibiotic ointment and then covering it with a thin, non-adhesive gauze pad, changed daily.
- For deeper wounds, cover the area with antibiotic ointment and then apply Tegaderm, a transparent film dressing that is permeable to moisture vapor and air to promote healing, but is waterproof and won’t allow bacteria to penetrate the wound. You can leave the Tegaderm or Duoderm in place while the wound heals.
One tip I’ve found extremely useful is to apply the Tegaderm, leaving a small opening at the bottom. Apply a layer of antibiotic lotion to this open area and secure a thin layer of gauze over the opening. Not only will it catch any liquids that drain from the wound, but it makes it simple to clean: Just change the gauze pad daily. You can secure the gauze with medical tape or Spandage.
Once the wound dries up and begins to scab over, remove the bandages.
If the wound shows any sign of pus, swelling, increased redness or pain or if the draining fluid smells like those cycling socks you left in your car, it’s best to get checked out by a doctor to rule out infection.
How to prevent scarring
Once the scab falls off, you’ll see new, pink skin underneath. As this new skin is healing, keep it out of direct sunlight or use sunscreen until the skin has completely healed. This will help decrease discoloration. I’m also a huge fan of Mederma following a gnarly crash, to prevent scarring. Another proven technique is to massage the wound (once it has healed) a couple of times a day. Use your finger to massage the scar gently using tiny circles to increase circulation and break down any adhesions. Moisturize the scar daily with Aquaphor or Eucerin creams.
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Note: I’m a blogger and massage therapist, not a medical doctor. Though I’ve consulted and cited doctors for this post, please don’t mistake it for personalized medical advice. Don’t be a knucklehead: If in doubt, seek assistance from a medical professional.