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How to Treat Road Rash from a Motorcycle Accident

How to Treat Road Rash from a Motorcycle Accident

By Viles Beckman | Jun 07, 2020

Most motorcyclists are familiar with the term “road rash,” and many have even experienced it. Although road rash is often considered a minor injury, it can sometimes lead to potentially life-threatening complications. If you have suffered injures from a motorcycle accident, contact an experienced Fort Myers motorcycle accident attorney as soon as possible. Read on for more information about what road rash is, how to treat it at home, when to seek medical attention, and what to do about the expenses related to this painful condition.

What Is Road Rash?

Road rash is a term used to describe a skin abrasion caused by contact with the roadway or other rough objects in an accident. It is one of the most common injuries suffered in motorcycle crashes.

Like burns, road rash severity is defined in degrees as follows:

  • First degree: This is the most minor type of road rash and involves redness, perhaps some slight bleeding, and bruising. For this level of road rash, follow the steps for home treatment. Although first degree road rash usually heals on its own and with minimal scarring, you should be watchful for signs of infection and be sure to keep the wound moist with antibacterial ointment or vitamin E oil after the first day to promote healing.
  • Second degree: Second degree road rash presents with bleeding and swelling. It may radiate heat and exposed muscle, tendons, and nerves may be present. Scarring is common with this level of road rash and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible to ensure that the wound is properly cleaned and cared for to prevent infection and reduce scarring.
  • Third degree: Third degree road rash involves the accident actually shearing off the skin. The abraded area may feature significant bleeding, swelling, and have a milky or shiny appearance. The wound can cover a significant portion of the body and may expose muscle, tendons, nerves, or even bone. You should avoid touching the wound, as an abrasion this serious is prone to infection. Medical attention should be sought immediately.

Those suffering road rash or tending to someone with road rash should be sure to address more serious injuries first, including broken bones, brain, or spinal cord injuries.

The Human Side of Road Rash Injuries

What a Florida woman remembers about her brother is how he looked in his hospital bed, covered in road rash and with dark, puffy eyes. The 32-year-old man was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident as he was going to a nearby store to grab a pack of cigarettes. His motorcycle collided with a Honda Civic driven by a 79-year-old woman who was pulling away from the mall. The woman failed to see the motorcyclist and pulled into his path. She and her passenger, also 79, were not hurt in the accident.

The motorcyclist—who was the father of an eight-year-old boy—lived for several days with a crushed leg and swelling on his brain. However, his sister said when she saw him there in his hospital bed, she knew he wasn’t coming back from his injuries. He was a baseball pitcher and a college grad. His sister said she wanted to make sure his life mattered. He was an organ donor and, upon his death, his organs saved seven people.

Home Treatment of Road Rash

As previously stated, road rash is a relatively common injury for motorcyclists, as even the smallest spill can result in skin being scraped across the rough surface of the roadway. Motorcyclists should invest in a good first aid kit that contains all the products needed for treating minor road rash while out riding or as soon as you return home.

Some of the items that should be kept in this kit include:

  • A first aid cleaning solution that contains a pain relieving ingredient such as lidocaine or brulidine. Absent a cleaning solution, you can also wash the wound with plain soap and water.
  • Simple, non-adherent dressings that can be used to cover the wound as it may ooze for a couple of days. Use tape to secure the dressings or tie them on with a strip of cloth.
  • A wrap to place over the wound to capture excess wound drainage and keep the road rash protected from contact with clothing, moisture, or bacteria.
  • Storage bags to keep supplies clean or to use as an ice pack to relieve swelling.
  • Scissors or a small knife to cut the bandages that you are applying.
  • Tweezers to pick small pieces of debris out of the wound when cleaning it.

Before cleaning your wound, you should always wash your hands to prevent the transfer of bacteria into the wound while attempting to clean it. Additionally, you should carefully pick out any debris such as small pebbles or grass, using the tweezers if necessary. Wash the wound gently, as scrubbing the injury will not only result in pain but could also cause increased bleeding and further damage. Once the wound is clean, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment that will help prevent infection. Cover the wound and change the dressings twice a day, or more often if the bandage becomes wet or dirty. Continue covering the wound until it is sufficiently healed, while watching for signs of infection.

Potential Complications

Infection is one of the most serious potential complications presented by road rash.

Bacteria that can get into the wound and cause infection includes:

  • MRSA: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a strain of staph infection that is harder to treat than other types of staph because it is resistant to commonly-used antibiotics. While MRSA generally results in minor skin infections such as boils or abscesses, if it enters a wound, it can result in a more serious, flesh-eating infection. MRSA can also enter the bloodstream and cause potentially fatal damage to the internal organs.
  • Tetanus: Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is an infection caused by contact with surfaces that are contaminated by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The danger of tetanus is increased if the bacteria enters the body through an open wound. While tetanus is very serious and potentially fatal, it is preventable through a vaccine. If you seek medical treatment for your wound, you will likely be given a tetanus shot if you have not had one within the last ten years.
  • Sepsis: Sepsis is an infection in the bloodstream that can result from even a minor infection that spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Usually this common condition responds well to antibiotics. However, in some cases it can lead to septic shock. Signs of septic shock can include low blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, altered mental status, and the need for a ventilator to help the affected individual to breathe. Typically, septic shock is treated in the intensive care unit through IV fluids, medication to help support a healthy blood pressure, and multiple antibiotics. Septic shock is a rare but lethal condition, which results in death for 40 percent of the people who acquire it, even with hospitalization and medical treatment.

Signs that your wound is infected include:

  • Increased pain after the first day;
  • Swelling and increased redness;
  • Warmth emanating from the wound;
  • Pus or other fluid draining from the wound;
  • The wound has a foul smell; and
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and body aches.

The other complication that can arise from road rash is scarring. Depending on the severity of the wound, scarring can be significant and very similar to that which is experienced with serious burns. As with burns, the scarring caused by road rash is often treated through skin grafts. Skin grafting is a surgical procedure in which scarred skin is replaced with healthy skin that has been harvested from another part of the body. The most common donor sites include the buttocks or the inner thigh, although surgeons can also harvest skin from the upper arm, back, or abdomen. In some cases, surgeons may graft skin from a healthy donor or synthetic skin made in a laboratory.

Some people are not good candidates for skin grafting, including infants, individuals who are over 60 years old, smokers, and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or uncontrolled skin cancer. Also, people on certain medications such as high blood pressure medicine or insulin might not undergo the procedure. For third degree road rash in which bone is exposed or the wound is particularly deep, often a different surgical procedure is required that involves the use of skin flaps or muscle flaps that will provide the wound with its own blood supply.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Regardless of the severity of the wound, road rash that covers a portion of your body that is larger than three times the area of your palm requires medical attention, as a larger wound presents a greater chance of scarring or infection. Additionally, if the wound is on a sensitive area such as your hands, feet, groin, or face, you should have it assessed by a doctor.

Other reasons to seek medical attention for your road rash include:

  • At least one of the signs of infection listed above.
  • Muscle or bone is visible through the wound.
  • You cannot remove foreign objects such as glass or rocks embedded in the area with tweezers.
  • The wound is bleeding excessively. Most road rashes ooze rather than pouring or trickling blood.
  • You are experiencing pain that may indicate that there is a broken bone or other injury involved.
  • Your wound has not healed within two weeks.

Motorcyclists should seek medical attention for anything more serious than the most minor of accidents, as some serious injuries—such as internal organ damage—often present with delayed symptoms.

Preventing Road Rash

Road rash is often preventable through the use of protective riding gear. However, for the gear to work when you need it, you must wear it every time you go riding.

The gear you should use includes:

  • A DOT-approved helmet with a full face shield. The helmet will protect your brain in the event of an accident while the shield will protect your face.
  • Gloves with padding on the palms. Many manufacturers of riding gloves lighten the padding on the palm area of the glove to allow the rider to firmly grip the handlebars. However, the lighter padding provides little protection against road rash if the rider drags their hand along the roadway in the course of an accident. Gloves with palm sliders are strongly recommended, as the palm of the hand is one of the worst places to get road rash.
  • Riding pants made of leather or ballistic nylon. Motorcyclists should never ride in shorts, as this leaves a lot of skin exposed. While many believe that jeans offer adequate protection against wind and weather, your jeans will shred within seconds if they make contact with the roadway, exposing skin that will likely shred as well.
  • A fitted jacket made of protective material such as leather or ballistic nylon to protect your arms, back, shoulders and torso. Your jacket should be fitted so that there is no loose material that can become entangled while you are riding. If you want extra protection, many jackets or full riding suits come with padded inserts that can further reduce the chance of road rash while protecting against other injuries such as broken bones.

Did You Suffer Road Rash in a Motorcycle Accident?

If you suffered serious road rash or complications such as infection or scarring in a motorcycle accident someone else caused, you can obtain compensation for your expenses from the liable party’s insurance. Contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney so we can explain the process to you and help you recover.