In 2019, 84,000 people reported a motorcycle accident. And many of these (5,000 in fact) were fatal, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
The rest of the crashes resulted in less serious motorcycle injuries to the rider. And while broken bones were prevalent in the data, the most common form of affliction was road rash.
Anyone who’s crashed their bicycle or skateboard as a kid has had a mild form of road rash. Now imagine that area of asphalt-scraped skin extending for many inches.
It can take months of steady road rash treatment to take care of the injury and get you back to feeling yourself. And that’s if all goes well. But unfortunately, in many cases, road rash can lead to severe infections and exact an emotional toll on its sufferers.
However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of road rash.
In this article, we’ll discuss common forms of the condition and how to treat road rash so you can get back on your feet and your bike.
Table of Contents
What Is Road Rash?
When your body comes off your motorcycle with momentum, it eventually makes contact with the road or the ground. Your body is then exposed to friction, or “the resistance that one surface encounters when moving over another.”
In the case of road rash, you’re one surface moving at speed and the road is another.
Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and it protects you from the elements, microbes, and bacteria. However, when it’s scraped off, not only is this sensationally painful, but it also exposes you to dirt, grime, tar, and anything your body sweeps up as it skids along the road.
In general, the extent of the road rash is determined by your speed, the road surface, and how much protective gear you’re wearing.
The areas of the body impacted by road rash are usually the palm, knees, lower legs, shoulder, hips, and outer thighs. The face is usually not impacted unless the rider drives their motorcycle without a helmet.
Types of Road Rash
You can contract multiple types of road rash in one crash, depending on how the injury unfolds. The three types are avulsion, compression, and an open wound.
An avulsion is when the skin has been scraped and is the most common type of road rash. Layers of muscle, fat, and in the worst cases, bone, are exposed during avulsion.
Compression means your body has been caught between the ground and something else to cause the road rash. Generally, that something else is your bike. Along with the avulsion, expect broken bones and muscle damage from a compression injury.
With an open wound, you’ll require outside means to close the injury. This may mean stitches and, worst case, skin grafts.
Rated by Degree
All road rash is painful, but medical professionals have categorized the extent of the injury by degrees.
If you suffer from a first-degree case of road rash, your skin will be red, have scrapes, maybe bleed a bit, and have light bruising. You may need to seek medical attention to clean and care for the wound right after it happens, but you should be able to further treat the injury at home.
Second-degree cases mean that your skin has been broken, although not all the way through to the fat or muscle. As a result, you’ll have dirt and debris lodged in the wound, and you’ll need medical attention to clean and treat it.
A second-degree case has the potential for permanent scarring, so make sure you follow your doctor’s treatment regimen. This may include return visits for further cleaning and dealing with potential infections.
A third-degree case is the worst kind, with the abrasion exposing muscle, bone, and tendons. This degree may include nerve damage.
The wound is most certainly bleeding and runs a high risk of infection. This type of road rash almost always produces some level of permanent scarring.
A first-degree case of road rash may not mean a trip to the hospital. First, wash your hands thoroughly before attempting to treat the wound.
Next, rinse and wash the wound. Your aim here is to remove as much of the dirt and debris from the crash as possible. If necessary, you may have to get in there with a pair of tweezers.
Then, treat the road rash with an antibiotic salve and apply a dressing. You’ll want to change the dressing daily and apply more ointment or petroleum jelly. This cuts down the risk of infection and keeps the skin moist so it can heal.
Second-, Third-Degree Treatment
You’ll likely know immediately that you need to go to the hospital for second- or third-degree road rash. In the case of the second degree, a doctor will go through the same general treatment model as a first degree but prescribe a more powerful ointment to help your skin heal.
Unfortunately, the doctor will need to explore the wound to clean and extract all the dirt and debris. This can be intensely painful. So you may also get pain medication to help with the discomfort.
A third-degree road rash could likely lead to a hospital stay. These wounds extend through the dermis, and extensive bleeding and broken bones are likely.
The skin’s nerves have been stripped away in some cases, and you may not feel any pain. However, you should still go to the hospital.
No matter what degree of road rash you have, you may contract an infection around the wound site. Signs of an infection include swelling, pus, a foul stench, and fever.
If you did not seek medical attention and your wound becomes infected, you should head to a doctor as soon a possible. Infections can spread and cause significant health problems, so take them seriously.
Prevention Is Key
Motorcycle riding is a fair-weather activity, and as the summer months heat up, people are loath to wear extra clothes while riding. However, covering your skin with specially made clothing and a helmet is the best way to protect yourself from road rash and personal injuries from motorcycle accidents.
Gloves, jackets, pants, and boots designed to handle skidding should all be worn. Also, a helmet is the best way to protect yourself from injury and ending up as a fatality.
To protect yourself from road rash to the face, consider using a helmet with a face shield.
Get Legal Help for Road Rash
Anything more than a minor first-degree case of road rash is bound to leave you with extensive medical bills, not to mention, also the loss or damage to your motorcycle in the crash.
If the crash and your injuries were caused by another driver or you are accused of being at fault in the crash, you should consult a lawyer with experience in motorcycle injury cases as soon as possible.
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