Handle Road Rash Like A Pro!
Crashes happen. Even when you do your best to prevent going down, it’s sometimes unavoidable; and the resulting road rash is like a cyclist’s rite of passage. When that’s the case, how you respond immediately after and in the weeks following the crash can mean the difference between a quick recovery and prolonged misery – or worse, permanent scarring. These tips will help you heal, so you can get back on the bike fast.
First Course of Action: Clean & Dress
Your Wounds //
When it comes to road rash, an infection will probably have more to do with negligence than with the crash that caused it. Aaron Goldberg, an emergency medicine physician who has served as team doctor for cycling teams, says the first thing you should do is clean your wound with water, from either a clean bottle or a nearby source. He advises treating really dirty wounds with a cleanser as soon as possible. Skip the peroxide, and don’t scrub hard, as the wound is initially very sensitive.
It’s crucial to keep the affected area clean to prevent infection, especially in the days immediately following the crash when the wound produces fluid. The easiest ways to do this: change your bandages approximately every 12 hours, and use antibacterial soap to gently clean the affected area while showering. Afterwards, re-dress your wounds with fresh bandages.
For minor road-rash treatment, Goldberg recommends applying a thick layer of antibiotic ointment, followed by a non-adherent dressing secured with a roll of gauze. For medium-depth wounds, he suggests using a thin layer of antibiotic ointment in the central wound area, then applying a dressing and covering it with gauze to secure. For deeper wounds, Goldberg says you should simply apply a leak-proof bandage directly on the wound and seal the edges as best you can. Wrap it with a roll of gauze to secure.
The Pro Move: Reduce Scarring //
Although some cyclists think of scars as gnarly proof of how hard they are, we’re firmly in favour of visibly unscathed skin. And while preventing scarring completely is hard to do, you can take steps to reduce scarring and make your painfully earned badges of honour less worthy of attention. Three-time Olympian track cyclist and test editor Bobby Lea says that the key to reducing scars is to keep your wounds moisturised with an antibiotic ointment and covered for the duration of the healing process.
“People think that road rash has to scab to heal,” Lea says. “It’s easy to let it go after a while by letting it scab over, but then it takes longer to heal, which means it’s more likely to scar.”
Once your wounds do close, the battle to prevent scarring is only half over. Roz McGinty, a triathlete and plastic-surgery specialist nurse, recommends massaging the new layer of skin with a moisturiser for a few minutes twice a day. “The massage helps break down the scar tissue, and the moisturiser hydrates the new skin,” she says. McGinty also suggests applying silicone cream, gel, or tape for two to four months after the injury. “It’s particularly effective for dark, red, or raised scars,” she says.
Then comes the seriously challenging part: protecting your recovering skin from the sun. Because UV rays increase pigmentation and can make your scar appear worse, treat the affected area daily with SPF 30 or zinc cream until it’s the same colour as the rest of your skin.
Veteran’s Advice: Don’t Ruin Your Clothes or Sheets //
Road rash sucks enough on its own, so there’s no need to make it worse by allowing it to ruin your clothes or bedding. Just like you might keep an old bike around to use when the weather gets bad, it’s wise to hang on to some inexpensive bedding and old towels or clothes to use while your wounds are still in the early stages of healing. Even when you take all the necessary steps to clean and seal the road rash, it’s hard to prevent some liquid from leaking out onto what you’re wearing or where you’re sleeping. This low-cost, proactive hack makes the healing process less stressful, so you can stop worrying about destroying your nice things and focus on getting back on the bike fast.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
While we hope it never happens, it’s important to be ready in case of a crash. Always carry basic bike tools – a multi-tool, chain link, spare tube, and mini-pump, at least – plus a few first-aid supplies, like a large bandage and some Ace wrapping, to handle minor issues. Using an app like FindMyFriends, wearing a helmet with an ICEdot tracker, and opting for a ROAD iD or a device with emergency features such as the Apple Watch or Garmin Edge are other proactive steps. Perhaps the pinnacle of crash preparedness, though expensive, is to ride with a device such as a GoPro mounted to the front of your bike – the footage you capture may provide evidence of what happened if an unfortunate situation causes you to go down.