Given that motorcyclists lack the protection provided by four-wheeled motor vehicles (think airbags, seatbelts, and outer enclosure), they are at higher risk of suffering severe injuries.
The most common motorcycle accident injury is road rash. In 2013, the National Trauma Data Bank reported 20,400 road rash cases, with over 2000 cases needing acute rehabilitation or care. The number has steadily increased with time.
It’s, thus, logical to want to understand the motorcycle road rash in more depth – which forms the basis of this guide.
What is Road Rash
Road rash is an American slang frequently heard on summer and spring trauma rounds. The term is diagnostic, descriptive, and distinct but refers to more than a skin allergic reaction to asphalt (bitumen). The U.S. National Institute of Health defines it as a “friction burn,” but not a burn in the traditional sense.
A road rash is a result of heat build-up due to friction. It incorporates both heat burn and abrasion elements. Often, Physicians treat it like a burn, seeing that the friction scrapes off skin layers in similar ways as thermal heat sources.
Overall, a road rash describes a mild or severe disfigurement of the skin due to sustained contact with the road. It is more severe than a bruise, rash, or scrape. At times, the skin is peeled back to the muscle and can take months (even years) to recover.
Road rash injuries often affect:
- The face
- Knees, and
- Lower legs
Types of Road Rash
Road rash injuries classify in terms of depth into three categories:
Avulsions are the most common types. Here, the skin is scraped away due to friction. Some cases are superficial lacerations, while others are more serious, potentially exposing fat layers, muscles, or even bone.
Compression injuries occur when parts of the body are caught between two objects. Think the motorcycle and the road. These injuries can result in bruising, muscle damage, or even broken bones. They primarily affect the torso and extremities like legs and arms.
Open wound injuries
As the name suggests, these injuries result in open wounds that are most commonly treated with stitches – or skin grafts in severe cases.
Degrees of Road Rash
The degree of road rash injury depends on the:
- Initial speed before the collision (or accident)
- The speed at which the skin hits the road surface
- Hardness, type, texture, and condition of the road surface
- Sliding distance
- Weather conditions
- Protective equipment
The medical community rates the severity of road rash injuries by degree. There are three degrees to it, as outlined below:
First-degree road rash
First-degree cases affect only the top skin layer. They involve scratches, scrapes, redness, slight bleeding, and temporary scarring.
The injuries heal over time with the right treatment. After a medical checkup, most victims can treat the case at home. As such, the first degree is the least severe but can cause significant pain.
Second-degree road rash
Second-degree cases occur when the epidermis (the top skin layer) is torn. The result is a laceration or deep cut. With the underlying skin layer exposed, debris like dirt and rock can lodge in the wound, increasing the chances of infections and other complications.
In such cases, the victim requires medical attention to reduce the probability of permanent scarring.
Third-degree road rash
Third-degree cases are the most severe involving deep wounds and acute abrasions. Here, the dermis (inner skin layer) is peeled away, exposing fat layers, muscles, or even bones.
Besides skin damage, third-degree cases can cause impaired tendon and muscle functionality, nerve damage, or permanent scarring of the affected areas.
The victims suffer significant bleeding and have a high risk of infection. As such, they must seek immediate medical attention.
How to Treat Road Rash from A Motorcycle Accident?
While receiving medical treatment against road rashes is vital to reduce or prevent scarring, infection, and disability, the required medical intervention largely depends on the degree of the injury.
Treatment can be complicated by the presence of other motorcycle accident injuries. Physicians must remove any debris before treatment. After which, they can proceed to stitch open wounds, conduct plastic surgery, skin graft, or any other intervention as deemed necessary.
Here is an outline of how to treat motorcycle road rash, depending on the severity:
First-degree road rash treatment
In cases of minor or superficial tears, road rash victims can treat themselves at home following these steps.
- Wash and disinfect your hands to minimize infection when tending to the wound.
- Rinse the injured area with alcohol, disinfectant, or antibacterial soap – taking caution not to rub the wounded area.
- Treat the wound with medical-grade antibiotic ointment. The ointment should sanitize the injured area without affecting the injured skin.
- Cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly or antibiotic salve to keep the injured area hydrated
- Dress the wound in a bandage or non-stick gauze to prevent bacterial infection when healing.
- Change the dressing regularly (at least twice per day). Be sure to change the bandage if it’s wet, saggy, or dirty. (When redressing, consider moistening the bandage with distilled water to soften the scab and loosen the tape.)
- Track any signs of infection, such as pus, continuing pain, and excessive and prolonged redness. When any of the symptoms occur, change the bandage and visit a doctor.
(Note, minor road rashes should heal within two weeks with the proper treatment.
Second-degree road rash treatment
Certified medical professionals should treat any torn skin or second-degree road rash. First-aid measures should involve:
- Washing and disinfecting the hands before tending to the injury
- Rinsing the area surrounding the wound gently with drinking-quality water to remove debris and other foreign materials.
- Covering the wound with a non-stick gauze, clean cloth, or medical-grade bandage.
- Seeking medical help.
Third-degree road rash treatment
Third-degree cases must be tended to by medical professionals. Only try the following steps if the road rash is grave enough to warrant intervention while waiting for paramedics.
- Stop any bleeding with a clean cloth or bandage
- Prioritize the most severe wounds first to reduce blood loss. That is injuries spurting blood or oozing bright red blood.
- Apply constant pressure on the wound(s) while simultaneously seeking help. The 911 operator should guide you on what to do before the paramedics’ arrival.
(Note, not feeling pain does not necessarily mean the victim suffered minor injuries. It could be that the injuries were severe enough to damage nerve endings – leading to loss of pain sensation.)
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTES
- When helping an injured rider, first secure the area. Deploy a warning sign to notify the oncoming traffic of the accident.
- If the injured person is in an unnatural position or unconscious, don’t drag or move their body unless necessary.
- Don’t rely on your understanding. Strive to offer help as you seek help.
How Long Does Road Rash Take to Heal?
The recovery period depends on the severity of the road rash. It can range from a few days to several months or even years. Some severe cases may call for lifetime treatment or long-term rehabilitation.
Here is a breakdown of probable recovery periods based on severity levels:
First-degree road rash
Most first-degree cases heal within two weeks with regular dressing and proper care.
The injured skin is considered healed when it resembles the color of the surrounding skin pigmentation or appears dull pink. In some cases, granulation tissue (whitish plaque) may form over the injured area. When that happens, don’t peel off the tissue no matter how tempting it gets. Peeling off will only prolong the skin’s recovery period.
Besides color, a healed skin should not sting on contact.
After healing, apply lotion or alcohol-free skin moisturizer to restore your skin elasticity.
(If the wound takes suspiciously longer to heal or there are signs of infection like swelling or pus – see a certified doctor immediately.)
Second-degree road rash
Torn skin requires stitches, which take relatively longer to heal. Think months.
Once healed, it’s advisable to apply and massage moisturizer on the area (at least twice a day) to keep the skin hydrated. And, by extension, minimize the risk of future scarring or tearing.
In case of dark visible scars, you can consult a dermatologist on the most effective cream or gel.
Third-degree road rash
Third-degree cases may call for skin grafting or transplant to cover the affected area.
When the skin is taken from another body part (usually the inner thighs, back, or buttocks), the donor area should heal within two weeks. The grafted area, however, takes longer to heal.
Medical professionals advise against any strenuous activities that can damage or stretch the grafted area for four weeks. Doctors may prescribe pain medication to reduce pain.
(Note, skin grafting is not always successful. The new skin patch can refuse to develop blood vessels and connect with the surrounding area. Unsuccessful skin grafting results from multiple factors, including excess flood or blood, infection of the site, or strenuous movement that affected the healing process. Unsuccessful skin grafting can be determined within three days of the surgery.
Long Term Motorcycle Road Rash Complications
Road crashes can cause intense pain and permanent scarring. The altered skin appearance – especially on visible body areas – can negatively affect the victim’s outlook and self-confidence. The resulting disfigurement and scarring can cause psychological and emotional suffering that cuts deeper than skin deep.
For example, road rash scarring is known to cause:
Ongoing pain and discomfort
Treatments associated with road rashes are painful – especially surgery-based interventions. Worse still, each additional surgery means more pain and discomfort.
Stress and anxiety
Some road rash victims may relieve the trauma of the motorcycle accident whenever they look in the mirror. The repeated trauma can create stress and anxiety. Some victims are also distressed by the disfigurement and scars and get sensitive to other people’s reactions to their looks.
There’s no single link between scarring and emotional or psychological well-being. Scars can affect someone’s self-worth, self-confidence, and enjoyment of life. In extreme cases, they can result in clinical depression.
Scarring – especially on the face – can affect a person’s social activities and personal relationships. The situation is worse for people whose livelihoods depend on their appearance. Think models and actors. In such cases, scarring can ruin careers.
To minimize scarring, Roz McGinty, a triathlete and plastic-surgery nurse specialist, recommends massaging the healed area with a medical-grade moisturizer twice a day, a few minutes each time. She says, “The massage helps break down the scar tissue, and the moisturizer hydrates the new skin.”
McGinty also recommends applying tape, gel, or silicone cream on the wound – two to four months after the injury. To make the scaring less noticeable, McGinty recommends avoiding direct sunlight for 12 to 18 months. The reason being UV rays can increase the pigmentation – making the scars appear worse. (Understandably, this is a big ask for people who love the outdoors. But they can find solace in broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30)
Preventing Road Rash
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation directs that motorcyclists wear heavy and properly-fitting protective gear to help reduce or prevent road rash injuries. In spring and summer, however, motorcyclists often go against this directive by wearing lighter clothing – and leaving more skin exposed to probable road rash. Must-have protective gear to help prevent road rash include a helmet, gloves, eye protection, face shield, eye protection, protective clothing, and motorcycle riding boots.
Guidelines for Road Rash Safety
When it comes to the worst, here are a few guidelines you can adopt to minimize the severity of the injury.
- If donning proper protective gear, don’t try to stop the slide. Instead, ride it out to help dissipate the kinetic energy via friction with the surface. That’s better than a sudden, bone-jarring stop.
- Note the location of paddings on your protective clothing (elbow, knees, palms, etc.) to help assume a proper body posture during the slide.
- Try (as you can) to keep the head above the surface during a slide. Note, repeated impact with road dips, bumps, and other deformities can cause neck and brain injury – even with a helmet.
- Always carry a first aid containing at least nitrile gloves, two non-stick gauze pads, Band-Aid, and pain relievers. You can also include tweezers, trauma shears, or a Swiss Army knife.
A motorcycle accident can cause serious injuries to riders or passengers. Treating motorcycle road rashes can be a painful and lengthy process. Even with professional medical intervention, victims can develop permanent scarring and the associated emotional consequences, like anxiety, depression, ongoing discomfort, and social isolation. If you suffered injuries as the result of a motorcycle accident, contact our office at (305) 694-2676 for a free and confidential consultation.