Recover From Road Rash

Simple and effective ways to treat close encounters with the Tarmac

Posted: 23 November 2009

Sooner or later, all triathletes hit the deck, and the result, more often than not, is road rash. Thankfully, such abrasions usually require only basic care, but it must be the right care. Dr Helen Iams has worked as Medical Director for races such as the US Pro Criterium Championships. "Pro riders give me lots of practice with road rash," she says. Here's her prescription for fast healing. 

First response

Before sizing up skin loss, check for other injuries. "I've had riders come into the medical tent with cracked-open helmets, but no idea they had hit their head," says Iams. If you're with a group and the injured rider has slow or slurred speech, call for medical assistance. If you're riding solo, carry a mobile phone. And if you're wondering how to evaluate the seriousness of a gash, Iams has a rule: if you can't stop the bleeding by applying pressure for 15 minutes, you need stitches.

Field dressing

After a crash, you may be tempted to douse your wound with water from your drinks bottle to clean it up. "That's not a bad idea to get rid of any dirt," says Iams, "but the bacteria on the bottle valve are bad." Antiseptic wipes are a much better bet, she says. 

Get the grit out 

Wash the rash as soon as you get home. To clean it well, says Iams, you should begin with painkillers. She recommends blanketing the wound with 10 x 10cm gauze pads saturated with antiseptic wash. "I let the wash soak in for a few minutes until the nerves are numbed," she says. Then she gently wipes the grime from the scrape using soap and water. "You need to get all the grit, bits of asphalt, everything," she says. "That stuff can have bacteria behind it." Stay clear of iodine, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. 

"They damage skin cells. The less damage there is to the skin, the faster it heals." For stubborn, sticky contaminants such as road tar, Iams recommends baby oil. "It will dissolve the tar, and you won't need to scrub."

Let the healing begin

After you wash the area, cover the abrasion to keep it clean and moist. Iams applies bacitracin, which kills bacteria and prevents the wound from drying or sticking to the bandage. Then she uses generic nonstick, gauze-type bandages, secured with silk tape. "I use cheap dressings until the oozing stops, maybe for a few days," she says. Then it's time for advanced hydrocolloid bandages - precious items for road-rash victims. "Put them on, and just leave them for a week until they fall off," she says. "They keep bacteria out, but let water come through and evaporate." Iams's other days- after tips include icing the injured area to reduce swelling, and hotfooting it to your doctor if you think the wound requires a second opinion. 

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Discuss this article

Could have been an excellent piece - but will everyone have such items in their home, or know how to buy them? What's antiseptic wash? And bacitracin - can it be bought over the counter? Advanced hydrocolloid bandages? That's very American - we call them plasters or at least dressings here; bandages are totally different.

And a 10cm x 10cm  pad won't do much for a 20cm graze...

A negative response, I know, but not everyone has instant understanding of medical terms. Of course we can all use Google, but simple editing queries could have made this a very useful piece, if only as a reminder to top up the first aid box. 

Posted: 03/12/2009 at 15:54

I've used Melanin (i think thats the name) in the past ? Is that right ?
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 16:03

Melanin is the pigment in your skin and hair, Cougie.

Posted: 03/12/2009 at 16:27

bacitracin? Surely overuse of antibiotics, I doubt you would be able to get it here for road rash? 

Is this a badly pinched American article? 

Posted: 03/12/2009 at 16:28

Hydrocolloid dressings are things like Compeed, and the dressing you used was probably Melolin Cougie.


Posted: 03/12/2009 at 16:31

Oooh close ! Melolin it is ! Was a while ago.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 16:46

Kwilter, I know that, and you know that - but many won't, and they will be further confused by the term 'bandages'.

And my point is illustrated perfectly by the 'ceptionally talented and intelligent Cougie's mistake. [points and laughs]
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:23

Those plasters are very very good.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:31

they are indeed, pops. I very rarely suffer from blisters, luckily, but the odd occasion I've had to - brilliant.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:48

I've used hydrocolloid plasters on cuts/grazes too and they were excellent for those too.  You do need to allow the wound to stop oozing before you apply them though.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:52

Bandages is fine ( if a little dated ) but hydrowotsit, no idea. Slap some savlon Cream on and HTFU. Or get some spray skin stuff from booooots also made by savlon I think.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:53

When I came off my bike a month ago, I wore short skirts to work so everyone could see my bruising.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:55

Bandages is fine? For a plaster? PSC I'm more dated than you and I've never thought of bandages as anything other than a length of fabric.
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 17:56

Em, on reflection, yep, I'm with you on the bandage point Jj. (I'm flattered at your other comment, although suspect we are similarly young).
Posted: 03/12/2009 at 18:16

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