It’s a bit of an unfortunate fact of cycling life that, at some point, you will probably take a tumble and come off your bike. Unfortunately, as tender flesh and bone strikes hard tarmac the chances are that you will suffer from what’s called road rash and knowing how to treat a cycling road rash properly both at the road side and also in the longer term can make the whole experience a little bit less unpleasant.
What causes road rash?
Generally when you hit the road you will be moving and, as your body moves along the tarmac it creates heat and friction which obviously sort of “burns” your skin off – not nice. Unfortunately lycra offers very little in the way of protection, in fact it can actually melt in the process or at the very least will disintegrate. The only real protection you will probably have is on your hands where a good quality pair of cycling gloves will help protect the palms of your hands if you fall off. Your hands are probably going to land first with the full force of your weight so it’s always a good idea to wear gloves whatever the weather.
Clean the area as soon as possible?
This is easier said than done at the road side but your first priority is to get the area as clean as you can as quickly as you can to prevent infection. Washing with clean drinking water and allowing to dry naturally may be an option if you are carrying water but in an ideal world using antiseptic wipes and patting dry with a soft clean towel is best.
It’s important to get any remaining bits of grit or debris out of the wound and a pair of sterilised tweezers is the best thing for this if possible.
If the wound is still bleeding then hold any loose skin together for 10 minutes or so to allow clotting and for the bleeding to stop.
It’s worth noting that, immediately after a fall at the road side you will be slightly in shock and the adrenaline from the fall will dullen the pain and your senses a little. Try to make an objective assessment of your injury and check for anything more serious. I actually got up from a fall off my bike and cycled on with a broken elbow many years ago – not, looking back, the best course of action!
If you are in any doubt about your injuries then seek medical help urgently.
Cream and dress the wound
The next step is to use an antiseptic cream on the wound and to use a preferably hypercolloid plaster or bandage. This allows the wound to breath and heal whilst offering excellent protection as well. You might need to clean and change the dressing again, keep an eye on the injury and see how it feels. If it starts to ooze with pus badly or look infected then a trip the the pharmacy or doctors may well be a good idea just to make sure that the wound doesn’t get infected.
After care of the wound
My children are the worst for picking and scratching at scabs but, as the wound heals try to resist the temptation to pick and scratch at the scab! Firstly this is just painful but more importantly it can slow down the healing process and cause longer term scarring. Moisturising the area will also help the skin to heal evenly and prevent scarring as well. Continue to look after the are and avoid getting it in strong sunlight until the new skin is looking much stronger and fully healed.
Getting back on the bike
If you have had a particularly painful experience then getting back on your bike might feel like a bit of a challenge. We are pre programmed to avoid danger and stress and, quite naturally, your brain is now trying to tell you that cycling might hurt you again!
It’s important to rationalise the fear and remember that you may well have been cycling for many years and many hours without mishap and that statistically cycling is a relatively safe activity.
Getting back on the bike on a quiet and easy to ride stretch of road for a start and not expecting too much of yourself will help. You can always start slowly and build back up again to regain your confidence and soon the pleasure you previously felt from your cycling will return.
You may well find that you are tense and stiff on the bike for a start and it’s important to try to counter this as much possible as it can effect your poise and balance quite considerably. I fell off my bike around ten years ago when I broke my elbow and it happened as I mounted a small curb to get on a cycle path at an angle that was just a bit too sharp and the bike slid from under me. I’ve cycled days and hours over the last ten years since the accident without mishap but, if I find myself in a similar situation today of having to ride over a curb my heart starts to race, I get into a bit of a cold sweat and start to grip the handlebars really tightly! It’s funny how your instinct takes over and an irrational fear can be so powerful!
Finally, it always pays to be prepared fro the worst. None of us expect to have a serious fall from our bikes and they are mercifully rare but it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are going and when you are likely to be back if you are out cycling alone. Carrying a phone is a common sense idea and having some form of emergency contact information in your helmet or emergency saddle bag is a sensible plan for if the worst does actually happen.