How To Treat Road Rash

The best way to prevent this from happening is to clean your skin as soon as possible. Often it isn’t possible to remove everything yourself. Wound debridement, or surgical scrubbing, may be necessary. This is a procedure that thoroughly cleanses your wound of all foreign items and any dead or infected tissue.

What to Know About Road Rash

Road rash is a friction wound. It’s caused by a common accident when doing active sports. While it tends to be painful, most of the time it isn’t dangerous to your health. Read more to find out the causes of road rash, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

How Road Rash Happens

What is road rash? Road rash is an abrasion caused by friction. It happens to your skin when it gets scraped off by a hard surface or contacts a smooth surface for an extended period. For example, falling while using a treadmill or off of a bicycle can both cause road rash.

It is unknown if road rash is caused only by friction or also because of heat buildup. Treatment for road rash is the same that is used for both heat and friction burns.

Road rash can happen to any area of your body. The most common places that you can get road rash include your knees, elbows, forearms, and hands. Bony areas are the most likely to be affected.

Road rash can be quite painful. It can cover a large area of your body. There is also a possibility of infection and scarring if left untreated.

Causes of road rash. Road rash can happen from many different things. It tends to happen more often in warm weather when people are wearing less clothing.

Most of the time, you can get it from a type of sport or activity. Some of these include:

  • Skateboarding
  • Motorcycling
  • Bicycling
  • Walking or jogging outdoors

Items and machines can also cause road rash. Vacuum cleaners are dangerous for small children. Fast-moving factory belts and tourniquets can also cause road rash.

Symptoms of Road Rash

Common road rash. Superficial, or surface, burns are a common type of road rash. Many people who get this type do not find it necessary to go to the hospital. This type of friction burn usually heals in 2 weeks and won’t leave a hypertrophic scar.

More severe types of road rash may produce a hypertrophic scar. Dermabrasion, skin grafting, and free flap procedures are common ways to fix this.

Traumatic tattoos. Traumatic tattoos can happen with more severe forms of road rash. Traumatic tattoos are when items such as dirt, rocks, glass, or metal get lodged into your skin.

These pieces of debris can become permanently stuck in your skin if left untreated. The healed skin can take on a bruised appearance.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to clean your skin as soon as possible. Often it isn’t possible to remove everything yourself. Wound debridement, or surgical scrubbing, may be necessary. This is a procedure that thoroughly cleanses your wound of all foreign items and any dead or infected tissue.

General anesthesia is sometimes provided during this process to reduce pain.

If your road rash isn’t healing after 2 weeks then you may have a deeper injury. This should be examined by your doctor.

How to Treat Road Rash

DIY. Road rash is painful, but it can usually be treated without medical help. The key is to clean and take care of your wound regularly so that it does not get infected.

The steps you can take to treat your road rash are:

  • Wash your hands: This will help prevent an infection from developing in the abrasion.
  • Gently rinse and clean: Use lukewarm water to clean the area that is affected. If there are foreign objects stuck inside, try to carefully clean them away.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment: This will help to prevent infection while also acting as a moisturizer.
  • Bandage your injury: A sterile bandage or gauze will help to protect the area from more damage and potential infection. It will also keep it clean.
  • Change the bandage often: Use your judgment to change as needed. At least once a day is recommended. If the bandage is stuck to your injury, you can soak it in saltwater (1 teaspoon of salt to 1 gallon of water) to loosen it.
  • Look for a possible infection: If the pain worsens over time, the wound area stays red or discharges pus, or you have a fever, you should see your doctor. You may need antibiotics.
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Pain management.Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two over-the-counter medications that can help to manage the pain you may experience from road rash. Your doctor might also give you a prescription for pain medication.

Your skin might feel itchy, tight, or dry as the abrasion heals. This is normal. Using an alcohol-free moisturizing lotion can help with these issues.

Ways to Prevent Road Rash

Road traffic accidents are the most common cause of road rash. Using protective gear is the best way to prevent injury.

The recommended steps you can take to prevent road rash include:

  • Wear protective clothing and gear if riding a motorcycle. This includes an appropriate helmet and shoes.
  • Use elbow and knee pads when playing sports where falling is possible.
  • Stay within the speed limit when riding a motorcycle or bicycle.

Show Sources

Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: “Immediate Debridement of Road Rash Injuries with Versajet® Hydrosurgery: Traumatic Tattoo Prevention?”

Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters: “Traumatic Injuries with Deep Abrasion: ‘A Burn’.”

Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England: A dressing for ‘road rash’.”

Journal of Burn Care & Research: “Friction Burn Injuries to the Dorsum of the Hand After Car and Industrial Accidents: Classification, Management, and Functional Recovery.”

MAYO CLINIC: “Treating skin abrasions known as ‘raspberries’.”

UCSF Department of Surgery: “Debridement.”

UWHealth: “Care of Road Rash and Abrasions.”

How to Treat Road Rash and Abrasions

Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.

Updated on July 17, 2020
Medically reviewed

Verywell Fit articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and nutrition and exercise healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Tyra Tennyson Francis, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician and currently serves as the medical director of an outpatient clinic.

Abrasions are common injuries among road athletes, typically caused by a fall or crash onto a hard surface. Cyclists will often refer to minor abrasions as “road rash,” “friction burns,” or “strawberries.” In these scrapes, only the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis, is affected. While there may be raw tissue and some minor bleeding, these injuries can often be treated sensibly with first aid.

By contrast, those that involve deeper layers of skin, called the dermis, are far more serious. They may require medical treatment to stop bleeding, suture the wound, and prevent infection.

When to Seek Treatment

There is often a fine line between an injury that you can treat on your own and those you should have tended to by a doctor. Oftentimes, in the midst of a race or training, we make the wrong judgment and try to push through the pain, only to find ourselves dealing with a serious infection later. Generally speaking, you should seek medical attention if:

  • There is severe pain.
  • It hurts to move the affected body part.
  • There is a cut on the face larger than 1/4 inch.
  • There is a cut on the body larger than 1/2 inch.
  • Bleeding is difficult to stop, whatever the size of the wound.
  • A gaping wound remains open when relaxed.
  • You see fat globules in the exposed tissues.
  • You have a head injury, were unconscious, or are experiencing confusion, a lack of coordination, or memory loss.

There are other injuries, such as cracked ribs, which may be less apparent but more serious. If in doubt, don’t risk it. Stop what you are doing and either see a doctor or visit your nearest emergency care facility.

As a rule, any open wound should be treated within six hours of the injury.

Self-Treatment

Many road injuries are treatable at the site of the accident and, afterward, at home. If the wound doesn’t require medical care, you can treat it as follows: 

  1. Stop the bleeding. Road rash tends to ooze rather than actively bleed. Apply pressure with a bandage until the bleeding stops.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water. Do this prior to treating the wound. This reduces the risk of infection.
  3. Rinse the wound. Place it under a stream of cold water to flush out debris. If needed, use a pair of tweezers to remove embedded grit. Take care not to leave any debris in the wound.
  4. Wash the skin around the wound with soap and water. Do your best to keep soap away from the wound as it can cause irritation. Dab lightly to dry with sterile gauze. Avoid hydrogen peroxide, which doctors advise against for open wounds.
  5. Use a topical antibiotic. Options include bacitracin and neomycin, available at drugstores. While triple antibiotic ointments like Neosporin may be used, they can cause allergy in some people. You may also consider using sterilized honey, which has considerable evidence for wound care. Use medical-grade honey, such as Medihoney, available over the counter and online, since there is a risk supermarket honey will contain bacterial spores.
  6. Bandage the wound. You can do so with sterile gauze and some dressing tape. Alternately, you can use a semipermeable dressing such as Tegaderm, Bioclusive, or Second Skin to cover the wound.
  7. Change the dressing daily. The goal is to keep the wound clean but slightly moist. This not only prevents infection, but improves tissue formation and reduces the risk of scarring.
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Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you can manage pain with Tylenol (ibuprofen) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).

Follow-Up Care

After an abrasion, you should consider getting a tetanus shot if you are unsure when you had your last one. Tetanus booster shots last for around 10 years. If you have had an injury where the epidermis is compromised, there is a chance that the spores of the tetanus bacteria (Clostridium tetani) may have entered the wound.

Stepping on a rusty nail is not the only way to get tetanus. The bacterium is readily found in dust, soil, and even saliva.

During healing, the damaged tissues will undergo repair from the lower layers up. As new skin cells develop, the outer edges of the wound may get hard and form scabs. Do not pick at them. Instead, continue applying the topical antibiotic for the first few days, and, as the oozing stops, switch to petroleum jelly to help keep the skin soft. Take care not to soak the wound in the shower or bath until fully healed.

When the wound is entirely closed, you can remove the bandage and use a normal skin moisturizer to aid in healing. Some plant oils may also offer benefits—there is evidence oils such as rose or rose hip, sea buckthorn, tamanu, sweet almond, and shea butter can help in wound healing and scar prevention. Look for cold-pressed or unrefined versions, which will provide the most beneficial nutrients for the skin.

Treating Infection

If, at any time, you experience signs of an infection, see a doctor.   Symptoms include:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Warm or hot skin
  • Oozing pus or fluid

Fever, chills, nausea, and generalized body aches may also accompany an infection. If you experience these, treatment should be sought immediately and will typically involve a short course of a broad-spectrum oral antibiotic. If left untreated, the infection can lead to a potentially serious condition known as cellulitis. 

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. Caring for cuts, scrapes, and wounds. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Jul 15;66(2):315-316.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tetanus Causes and transmission.
  3. Sullivan T, de Barra E. Diagnosis and management of cellulitis. Clin Med (Lond). 2018;18(2):160-163. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.18-2-160

Additional Reading

  • Molan P, Rhodes T. Honey: A biologic wound dressing. Wounds. 2015;27(6):141-151.
  • Simon A, Traynor K, Santos K, Blaser G, Bode U, Molan P. Medical honey for wound care–still the ‘latest resort’?. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009;6(2):165-73. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem175
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Wounds and injuries.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.

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