If you’re a motorcyclist or bicyclist, you’ve likely heard of road rash. It is one of the most common injuries associated with motorcycle and bicycle riding, but road rash can also occur in accidents that involve the ejection of an occupant from a vehicle or from an e-bike or a scooter, either privately owned or made available from online rental companies.
While generally regarded as only a minor injury, road rash can have serious and even life-threatening implications. If you’ve suffered road rash due to an accident that was caused by someone else, you should seek compensation for your injuries. An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can speak with you about the process of recovering that compensation.
What Is Road Rash?
Road rash is a common term for a skin abrasion that results from scraping the skin across a rough surface, such as pavement. While this type of injury can occur on any exposed part of the body, it is often seen on the body’s jointed areas, such as the elbows and knees, as well as bony areas, including the hands, face, shins, ankles, and shoulders. The different types of road rash include:
- Avulsion, which involves the scraping away of the top layers of skin and can involve fatty layers and even muscle or bone beneath the skin
- Open wound, which involves tearing of the skin tissue and may require stitches
- Compression, which is a type of road rash that occurs when part of the body is trapped between two objects. A common example of compression road rash would be a motorcycle accident in which the rider’s leg is trapped between the motorcycle and the roadway.
Like burns, road rash is categorized by degrees. First-degree road rash typically involves only the outer layer of the skin and presents as a red and tender area. This type of road rash rarely requires medical treatment or causes permanent scarring. Second-degree road rash, which impacts the lower layers of skin, also commonly heals with at-home treatment and presents a low risk of complications. Third-degree road rash is the most serious category, involving the scraping away of skin and fatty layers and the exposure of the muscle and bone beneath it.
Those with road rash may feel little or no pain in the deepest part of the wound, while feeling extreme pain on the edges of the wound. This is due to damage to the nerve cells in the affected area. Other common symptoms of road rash include redness, swelling, and bleeding.
Those suffering road rash may wonder if it is severe enough to seek medical treatment. Some of the symptoms that indicate a need for prompt medical treatment are:
- Wounds that are more than three times bigger than the palm of a hand. Large areas of damaged skin pose an increased risk of both infection and scarring.
- The wound is on the hands, feet, or genitals. These locations are also prone to infection due to the plethora of bacteria found here.
- Muscle or bone is visible, which indicates third-degree road rash. Treatment is needed due to the likelihood of further damage, such as broken bones or foreign objects embedded in the skin, as well as to prevent infection and promote wound healing.
- Foreign objects embedded in the wound. This increases the likelihood of infections and other complications. Injured individuals should seek treatment to remove the foreign objects from the area.
- Excessive bleeding or bleeding that won’t stop. Treatment may require stitches and other efforts to get the bleeding to stop and to close the wound.
- You’re experiencing signs of infection.
Treating Road Rash
Many cases of road rash can be treated at home by taking the following steps:
- Wash your hands thoroughly to avoid transferring bacteria to the open area.
- Wash the injury, taking care not to scrub too hard, as this can make the wound bleed and may cause further damage.
- Remove debris, such as dirt, pebbles, and glass from the wound, using tweezers if necessary.
- Pat the affected area dry with a clean towel.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to protect the wounded area and keep it moist.
- Cover the wound with clean, lightweight gauze or medical dressing.
- Change your bandage at least twice a day and more frequently if the bandage becomes wet or dirty.
If the wound is serious and medical treatment is required, some of the treatment that may be provided includes:
- X-rays to look for foreign objects and additional injuries, such as broken bones
- Deep cleansing of the affected area
- Monitoring of your vital signs
- IV or oral antibiotics to prevent infection
- A tetanus vaccine
- Blood tests and cultures to diagnose infection
- Surgery to remove foreign objects or to repair damage
- The provision of pain medication or a prescription for medication to be taken at home
Road Rash Complications
Any injury that breaks the skin barrier poses a risk of infection. Some infections associated with skin abrasions include:
- Staph infection: Staphylococcus bacteria are naturally present on the skin and in the nose. However, if the skin is broken, this bacteria can enter the body and result in an infection that may not only cause potentially life-threatening illness to the injured person, but may also be resistant to antibiotics and contagious to other people.
- Tetanus: Tetanus bacteria are present in soil, dust, and on metal objects. When the bacteria enter the body through an open wound, they can cause symptoms, including painful muscle spasms in the neck and jaw. Often, individuals seeking treatment for wounds like road rash will receive a tetanus shot if they have not had one in the past ten years or if they don’t remember how long it has been since their last tetanus shot. Tetanus infections are very rare in the U.S. due to the availability of the vaccine.
- Necrotizing fasciitis: Group A streptococcus bacteria is a common culprit of necrotizing fasciitis infections, which cause the death of soft tissue. This type of infection generally spreads quickly and, without treatment, can result in life-threatening problems, such as sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, and multiple organ failure.
Anyone experiencing road rash should watch carefully for signs of infection. Common signs of infection with this type of wound are:
- Increased pain after the first day following the injury
- Swelling and increased redness
- Warmth in the area around the wound
- Pus or fluid draining from the wound
- Foul-smelling drainage
- Flu-like symptoms, which may include stomach ache, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, chills, and muscle aches
- A wound that won’t heal
- A hard, painful lump in the armpit area that appears in the days following a road rash injury
If any of these symptoms are present, you are advised to seek medical treatment immediately. Certain factors may increase a person’s likelihood of acquiring an infection from road rash, such as smoking, being overweight, having a compromised immune system, narrow blood vessels, or high blood pressure.
Besides infection, road rash causes other potentially serious risks, including:
- Scarring and disfigurement: This is particularly true with third-degree road rash on visible areas of the body, such as the hands or face. Road rash scarring may require skin graft surgery. To prevent scarring from first or second-degree road rash injuries, you should keep the area clean and moist, using petroleum jelly to prevent scabbing during the healing process and regularly changing the bandage or gauze that you use to cover the wounded area. Additionally, you should avoid picking at scabbed areas, as this may increase your risk of scarring or infection and cause the wound to take longer to heal.
- Scarring on joints: Road rash that occurs on jointed areas, such as the elbows or the knees, may result in the skin healing tighter than it was before the injury. This can cause difficulties with fully bending or extending the joint, which may require surgery or physical therapy to alleviate.
- Chronic wound: A chronic wound is one that takes an abnormally long time to heal and repeatedly opens. This can be a result of a bacterial infection or a weakened immune system. Certain underlying health conditions make this complication more likely, including diabetes or cancer.
- Permanent nerve, muscle, or tissue damage
Skin graft surgery to repair areas that experience significant scarring involves replacing the damaged skin with healthy skin that is harvested from your own body in discrete areas, such as the buttocks or thigh. Doctors may also use skin from cadavers or animals or synthetic skin.
Preventing Road Rash
When riding a motorcycle, the simplest and most common way to prevent road rash from occurring is to remain aware of the conditions of the surface on which you’re riding and the gear that you’re using. Certain road conditions cause an increased risk of suffering an accident that could result in road rash, including:
- Gravel and roads where loose gravel may be present on the pavement
- Wet or icy roads
- Roads that are oily due to motor vehicle residue. Riders should pay attention at intersections or other locations where cars idle, because oil spots can make them slick.
- Obstacles in the road, including trash or debris that could cause an accident or cause you to swerve in avoidance of an accident.
- Roads or trails that feature a steep incline where the rider may pick up speed and lose control.
When it comes to clothing that can prevent road rash injuries, the more skin you have covered, the better off you will generally be, as clothing provides a layer between your skin and rough surfaces. Clothing should be loose enough so as not to impede movement, but tight enough that no loose pieces of fabric can get caught or tangled on anything as you ride. Motorcycle gear that may prevent road rash or lessen its severity includes:
- A helmet with a face shield. While you’re likely aware that your helmet can provide protection from head injuries, a helmet with a face shield can also prevent facial injuries, such as road rash, in the event of an accident. Shields are generally made of shatter-proof material and may have a tint to reduce eye strain when riding during daylight hours. You should always take care to use a face shield that is free from scratches, as scratched shields may blur your vision.
- Jackets, pants, and riding suits. The highest level of road rash protection is usually found in leather or synthetic, abrasive-resistant fabric, such as ballistic nylon. Gear designed specifically for motorcyclists will generally feature additional protection through longer sleeves and legs. Additionally, padded options can provide extra cushion for high impact areas, such as the elbows and knees.
- Gloves. Riders should opt for full-fingered gloves made of an abrasive-resistant material, such as leather. Riders should ensure that their gloves fit properly. Loose gloves will impact a motorcyclist’s ability to control his or her vehicle, and tight gloves may restrict circulation to the hands.
- Boots. Sturdy boots that fit over the ankle provide the best protection against road rash on the ankles and feet. Boots should have rubber-based, composite soles that provide grip to avoid foot slippage or slick pavement or gravel that can lead to a low-speed accident.
Road rash is more frequent in warmer months when people are more likely to be riding the wheeled vehicle of their choice and more likely to have exposed skin. It is important—whether you’re riding a motorcycle, bicycle, scooter, or another vehicle—to cover your skin as much as possible with long pants made of a sturdy material (like jeans) and long sleeves.
If you suffered road rash or any other injuries due to a motorcycle, bicycle, or car accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, let an experienced motorcycle accident attorneys help you understand your legal options.