Taken A Tumble? How To Treat Road Rash

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Whether you’re a veteran of the road or a complete beginner, we all come off our bikes at some point.

In this case, most of the time, your injuries will likely be restricted to minor skin abrasions called road rash. However, of course, it’s possible to experience more severe injuries. If you experience persistent numbness, fast and significant swelling, or you suspect you have broken or sprained a bone, seek immediate medical attention.

Such severe injuries are rare, so it’s far more likely you’ll come away with minor cuts and scrapes. For non-severe cases of road rash, it’s possible to treat this at home, and it’s very important to know how to do this.

But how long does road rash last? And how can you treat it?

To answer these burning questions and more, in this article we’ll be covering:

  • What Is Road Rash?
  • How Long Does Road Rash Take To Heal?
  • How To Treat Road Rash
  • How To Prevent Road Rash

Let’s get healing!

How To Treat Road Rash: Title Image

What Is Road rash?

Often coming off your bike is painful and shocking, but most of the time, it only results in minor injuries. The cuts, scrapes, and grazes that you might now have are commonly referred to as road rash. It is extremely common and will have happened or will happen to almost every cyclist.

Road rash is an abrasion on your skin caused by friction between your skin and the ground upon impact and sliding after a crash.

This is usually just a surface effect, but it’s sometimes accompanied by bruises. It normally appears as red and broken skin in a scraping pattern, which bleeds slightly.

If you have deep cuts which bleed persistently without stopping, or you suspect a more serious injury, seek help from a medical professional.

A cyclist sits on the road with road rash after a fall.

How long does road rash last?

This is often the question asked by the recently-tumbled, and you may well be extremely keen to get back on the bike. Unfortunately, the answer to this question depends on the severity of your injuries and how you treat them, so there is no one answer.

Very light abrasions, only affecting the first few layers of skin, can often completely heal within a week with the correct treatment. But if your road rash is minor, you may only experience pain upon contact and pressure on the grazes, within a few hours of the accident. In this case, it might not prevent you from getting back in the saddle.

For slightly more severe cases, more than just the first few layers of skin are affected, and it may bleed significantly, or you might have grazes in several places across your body. In this case with proper at-home treatment, your road rash should be completely healed within 2-3 weeks of the accident.

These healing times, however, are dependent on the proper treatment of your road rash. If you fail to clean it and treat it properly, it will take significantly longer to heal, and could even result in infection which can lead to more serious ailments.

It’s extremely important that you know how to properly treat road rash!

A cyclist is shown how to treat road rash.

How to treat road rash

There are generally two steps to any treatment of an injury: the treatment immediately after the accident, and the ongoing treatment as the injury heals.

What to do straight after the accident

Make sure when you’re on a ride, you have a basic first aid kit with you.

You need enough water, anti-bacterial gel, anti-biotic cream, some gauze, medical tape, a small cloth, and some band-aids at a minimum. This won’t take up much space, and it’s just as important as your puncture repair kit!

If the worst happens and you take a tumble, follow these steps:

  • Make sure you can move all your limbs as normal. As previously stated, if you experience numbness, swelling, and intense pain, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Quickly move yourself and your bike out of the road. If you are not able, ask your cycling buddy or a passer-by for help.
  • Check your body for abrasions. The worst grazes often draw your attention first, but be thorough and check your whole body for road rash.
  • Wash out all of your wounds to remove any dirt and debris. It’s very important that you get them very clean. If you don’t have enough water to do this properly, make sure you re-do it as soon as you reach a water source.
  • Apply anti-bacterial gel to the road rash. This is going to sting, but it’s necessary to ensure that you remove any bacteria from the road to avoid infection, so unfortunately you just have to grit your teeth and get it done.
  • Dry off your road rash with a small cloth.
  • Apply a layer of anti-biotic cream to the open wounds. This is equally important to avoid infection, so make sure you have some with you.
  • Dress your road rash in some non-stick gauze and medical tape. For very small ones, you can use a band-aid.

If you follow these steps thoroughly and properly, you can leave your wounds for 24 hours without further attention, when they will need to be re-dressed.

This will set your injuries up for fast and quick healing, but you’ll need to maintain your treatment at home!

How to maintain your treatment

Of course, getting ahead of your road rash is paramount, and treating the injury properly straight away is the only way to do this. But if you’re hoping for the fastest possible healing, then you need to treat it continuously until it is fully healed.

Here’s what you should do each day:

  • With clean hands, remove your dressing. Do this without the aid of water, as dry removal encourages dead tissue to come off with the old dressing.
  • Wash with a gentle anti-bacterial gel. The sting of applying the gel should decrease each day.
  • Remove all of the dead skin and inactive scabs. Do not pull off scabs with force, only those which seem to come off themselves.
  • Rinse thoroughly. This is easiest achieved by taking a shower at this point in the treatment. Next, dry it off with a towel or cloth.
  • Apply antibiotic cream to all open parts of your wounds.
  • Apply moisturizer to the new and healed skin around the road rash.
  • Re-dress the rash with non-stick gauze, and secure with medical tape.

By performing this ritual daily, you will significantly shorten your recovery time. Most cases of road rash should be healed in two weeks with this treatment.

A cyclist takes a tumble off his black mountain bike.

How to prevent road rash

The best form of treatment is prevention. There are a number of ways to prevent or reduce the severity of potential road rash when you’re zooming around your local streets.

There is an incredibly obvious way of doing this: don’t come off your bike! This is a huge oversimplification: many accidents are not your fault, some are purely misjudgments in the moment or mechanical failure.

There are, however, a few ways of minimizing crashes and tumbles.

One of the major causes of accidents in road cycling is cars. Unless you’re riding at the Tour de France, it’s almost unavoidable to encounter drivers on your rides. As we all know, some drivers reserve unexplained animosity and aggression for anything on two wheels.

Some drivers will dangerously overtake you, shout at you and make you jump, cut in front of you, or even deliberately hit you. All of this is completely unacceptable, but luckily, the law is slowly changing. In the UK, for example, road laws recently changed to provide greater protection for cyclists.

One of the most common accidents occurs when you are attempting to go straight on at a cross-road junction. Often a car behind you is turning right (or left if you are from the UK or anywhere else that drives on the left), and can crash into you while doing so without seeing that you are on their inside.

There are two key precautions you can take for this. Make sure that when you’re at the junction, you sit on the car’s outside, thereby eliminating the possibility for the car to cut through you. Look over your shoulder at all such junctions and ensure that there is no car turning.

Here are some further tips for avoiding crashes with cars.

Another common cause of coming off is the road itself. Always pay attention to the road in front of you, looking out for potholes, ice, any metal or road paint polished by the rain, tram lines, and gravel. All of these can send you flying, and it often only takes a minor swerve to avoid them!

There do also exist ways of avoiding or minimizing road rash in the case that you do come off. Wearing lycra is one way of doing this, as the smooth surface is designed to reduce friction between you and the road (as well as reduce drag).

It is a common misconception that professional cyclists often shave their legs to reduce drag. This has an incredibly minor effect, and most of the time it is actually to prevent any hard-to-remove hair from being getting stuck in a road rash.

A cyclist on a white track bike takes it easy riding on an outdoor velodrome.

now you can properly treat your road rash…

You’ll be back to shredding up your local routes in no time!

Often, they might not even prevent you from getting back in the saddle straight away, but if you leave them and they get infected, they certainly will. Even if you are able to continue cycling instantaneously, make sure you properly treat your road rash.

Injuries suck. But they happen to everyone, and treating them well is the easiest and fastest way to get back on your bike. Make sure you remember to bring a small medical kit with you on your rides and look after your wounds!

Found this guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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