How to Treat Road Rash

By Sandy Smith

The term "road rash" is generally used to describe a shallow abrasion caused by the friction that results when skin moving at speed meets the ground or other unmoving surface. Cyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters are particularly prone to this sort of injury. Although road rash doesn't typically result in a great deal of bleeding, it can be extremely painful due to the exposure of nerve endings in the abraded skin. The risk of infection due to wound contamination at time of injury is considerable, so cleaning and care of a road rash injury should be taken seriously.

Step 1

First, assess your injury. And cuts or gashes that are bleeding profusely or those edges are gaping and may require stitches to close should be seen by a physician. Other factors to consider as you decide whether to seek professional treatment include the presence of road debris in the wound, not having an up-to-date tetanus vaccination, and the suspected presence of a fracture or other underlying tissue damage. If any doubt exists about the severity of your injury, proceed to an urgent-care facility for treatment.

Step 2

If you are confident that the abrasion is minor and indeed just a case of superficial "road rash" involving only the upper layers of the skin, you can proceed to treat it yourself. The next step is cleaning the wound. Because there is so much foreign matter (think road dirt, glass particles, dust, shredded clothing, etc.) that typically gets into a road rash wound, cleaning it well is critical. If the area is too large or difficult to reach—or if cleaning it hurts too much to do on your own—seek professional treatment.

Step 3

Ideally, use a steady stream of (0.9%) saline solution or a wound-cleaning solution like UltraKlenz, Shur-Clens, or MicroKlenz to flush the wound. Cold, clean tap or bottled water can be used as well. Use a soft-bristled scrub brush, sterile surgical sponge, or clean white washcloth to gently brush away debris and dead tissue. Take care not to scrub too hard or you risk doing further damage to the tissue and hampering the healing process.

Step 4

Carefully, using a dry, sterile surgical sponge, sterile gauze pad, or clean white wash cloth, pat the area dry. Take this opportunity to look at the wound again – make sure that no foreign matter is embedded in the skin.

Step 5

If you have access to Tegaderm or 2nd Skin dressings, which are used to dress burns and maintain a moist, nonadhearing healing environment, these are the best choices to promote healing. If not, a sterile gauze pad large enough to cover the road rash wound will also work. Apply a liberal layer of antibiotic ointment with pain relief to the gauze for additional protection and lubrication. Make sure that any bandage you apply has at least a 1/2-inch overlap of healthy skin around the site of the road rash injury. If using gauze, use paper or cloth first-aid tape to secure it in place. If you have sensitive (or hairy) skin, you may wish to use a length of stretch gauze or Surgilast to affix the bandage rather than taping it to your skin.

Step 6

Because infection is a significant concern with road rash, be diligent about changing your dressing at least once daily, more often if it becomes wet, sweaty, or dirty. Do not hesitate to seek professional care if the wound shows any sign of infection, such as redness or pus, if it develops a foul smell, or if you begin to run a fever.