What Is Road Rash?

A trip to northeast Missouri was painful for one Iowa motorcycle rider. He and a friend were out for a ride in July when the man, unfamiliar with the curves in the roadway, dropped a wheel off the rough right edge of the asphalt and lost control of his bike. The force threw the man from his bike, and he suffered two broken arms, as well as road rash.

While road rash is often regarded as a minor injury, it can have serious complications. Plus, it can be extremely painful. If you were injured in a motorcycle accident involving another driver, you may be eligible to receive compensation for the damages you’ve suffered. An experienced motorcycle injury lawyer can help you determine all of the options that are available in your case.

Road Rash Defined

Road rash is a skin abrasion that is caused when the outer layer of skin comes in contact with a rough surface, such as a roadway, and is scraped off. It is one of the most common non-fatal injuries that one can experience in a motorcycle accident, but can also be the result of a bicycle accident or even playing sports. The extent of road rash can be relatively minor and not require treatment, but more often than not it can be serious and involve extended wound care and possibly scaring.

Much like burns, we measure road rash by the degree of seriousness:

  • First-degree: First-degree road rash presents with skin redness, but the outer skin layer remains intact, unbroken, and requires no medical treatment.
  • Second-degree: Second-degree road rash features a broken outer layer of the skin and requires washing with warm, soapy water to remove any debris. It may also require covering with clean gauze to keep the wound protected as it heals. Petroleum jelly and antibiotic ointment are often used to keep the wound moist and prevent infection, but if redness or a rash develops after the application of antibiotic ointment, stop using it immediately. Second-degree road rash generally heals on its own with minimal scarring and no need for medical attention.
  • Third-degree: When the outer layer of skin comes completely off and reveals underlying tissue, the road rash is considered third-degree.

If you’ve been injured in a crash and have road rash, seek medical treatment. No injured person we’ve ever spoke to regrets seeing a doctor.

There are also different types of road rash, including:

  • Avulsion: Avulsion is the most common type of road rash, and it occurs when the skin is scraped away and fat, muscle, or even bone is exposed.
  • Open wound: Open wound road rash occurs when the skin is not only scraped away, but also features an open cut. This type of injury often requires stitches.
  • Compression: Compression occurs when a body part is caught between two objects, such as the leg being caught between the motorcycle and the road. This type of injury presents the common scraped skin, but bruising, muscle damage, and broken bones may accompany it.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Do not always assume that your road rash can simply be treated at home. The following symptoms are reasons to seek medical attention:

  • The wound is more than three times bigger than the palm of your hand.
  • Your road rash is located on your face, hands, feet, or genitals.
  • There is muscle or bone visible.
  • There are foreign objects, such as glass or rocks, embedded in the wound.
  • There is excessive bleeding; road rash wounds generally ooze rather than pour, and bleeding can generally be stopped with mild pressure on the area.
  • There are signs of infection, which may include a wound that is not appearing to heal or may have gotten worse; increasing amounts of pain; the abrasion remains warm, swollen, or red; you’re running a fever; there is pus or other discharge or a foul odor coming from the wound.

Again, when in doubt, see a doctor! Always seek medical help as failing to do so can result in very permanent consequences.

What Complications Can Arise From Road Rash?

When it comes to road rash complications, the biggest threat is a bacterial infection in the wound, which is why you need a doctor to clean the wound properly and tell you how to keep it clean as it heals. Infection is caused when bacteria from the body or outside of the body enters the wound. The infection may be localized to the skin where the wound is located, or it may spread to deeper layers of tissue or even the surrounding organs. Often, a medical professional will prescribe antibiotics and or antibiotic cream to help prevent infection. Some factors increase the likelihood of infection from road rash, as they impact healing, including:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Medical conditions involving the immune system or medicines that weaken the immune system
  • Foreign objects in the wound, such as glass, dirt, or rocks
  • Decreased blood flow to the wound due to high blood pressure or narrow blood vessels

Wound infections may be diagnosed through a physical examination, blood tests, an X-ray, or a CT to look for foreign objects in the wound, or by taking a culture of the damaged tissues for examination in the lab. The following methods are used to treat bacterial infections caused by road rash:

  • Medicine, including antibiotics to fight the infection, as well as pain relievers
  • Wound care, including cleaning
  • Surgery to remove infected or dead tissue or any foreign objects that are present

If not cared for promptly, an infection can move into deeper tissues, which is called cellulitis. In rare cases, cellulitis can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening illness caused by your body’s response to infection. Sepsis develops when chemicals that are released by the immune system enter the bloodstream to fight the infection and, instead, cause inflammation throughout the entire body. This condition can cause septic shock, which may cause low blood pressure and organ failure, and is potentially deadly.


Another common complication of road rash is scarring, which—depending on how big the wound is and how well it heals—is sometimes both extensive and permanent. Some things you can do to prevent scarring from road rash include:

  • Keeping the wound clean and moist according to your doctor’s directions.
  • If scabbing does occur, resist the urge to scratch at or pick at the wound, as this can increase the likelihood of scarring.
  • Apply sunscreen after the wound heals, which will help reduce red or brown discoloration of the new skin that has grown over the wound.
  • Keloids results from the formation of a type of scar and can protrude from the body. Keloids are firm, rubbery lesions or shiny nodules that can change color from pink to the color of the person’s skin color. Keloids are seen 15 times more likely in people of dark complexion. Seeking treatment early and continuously can address this form of scarring, which can require extensive medical treatment.

Severe road rash is often treated as a burn and may require reconstructive surgery. Skin grafting is one such procedure and is accomplished by replacing scarred skin with healthy skin from the injured person’s own body. Healthy skin is typically harvested from a discrete place on the body that is generally covered by clothing, such as the buttocks or thighs. In some cases, donor skin from a cadaver or even an animal is used; synthetic skin may also be used. Once the healthy skin has been harvested, it is then transplanted to the scarred area.

Doctors may use three common types of skin grafts on patients with extensive road rash scarring:

  • Split-thickness graft: This type of graft is most commonly used, as it provides faster healing than other graft types. Only the top and middle layers of skin are removed. The problem with split-thickness grafts is that the skin being transplanted and harvested is very fragile and may be of lighter pigmentation.
  • Full-thickness graft: Sometimes used for scarring in highly visible areas such as the face, full-thickness grafts remove all three layers of the skin entirely, providing a more consistent cosmetic appearance. This type of graft is limited only to parts of the body where there is sufficient blood flow for the graft to survive.
  • Composite graft: Composite grafts are only necessary when there is extensive damage to the skin, as well as the bodily structure beneath the skin, and requires three-dimensional reconstruction, such as the repair of a severe wound involving the nose. This procedure entails the removal of skin, fat, muscle, and cartilage.

Scarring that occurs over a joint, such as an elbow, may produce skin that is tighter than it was before the injury occurred and limit the movement of the joint. This condition may require further medical treatment, including surgery.

How to Prevent Road Rash

If you’re a motorcyclist, one of the most common ways to prevent road rash in the case of an accident is through protective gear. Some types of protective gear is actually required to wear by some states because normal clothing, such as jeans, will not prevent road rash. However, these items will help:

  • Face protection: Aside from the benefit of avoiding being struck in the face or eyes by rocks and other airborne debris while riding, a helmet providing full-face protection can prevent you from getting road rash on your face should you be involved in an accident. There are several different types of helmet face shields, including those that flip up, those that lay flat and snap to the helmet, and those that form a bubble in front of the face. It is important, regardless of the type of shield you use, to inspect the shield before riding to make sure it is firmly snapped to the helmet and to ensure that the chin strap on the helmet is securely in place to avoid having the helmet fly off—thus voiding any protection to either the brain or the skin—during an accident.
  • Gloves: It is instinctual for a person who is falling or sliding to attempt to protect themselves with their hands. This is the reason why many people suffer road rash on their palms. A properly fitting pair of full-fingered gloves can prevent abrasions during an accident. Motorcycle gloves come in a variety of thicknesses, with lightweight gloves providing a cooler option during the summer months and lined or insulated gloves providing added warmth during cold weather riding.
  • Jackets, pants, and riding suits: Covering the body with abrasion-resistant materials, such as leather or ballistic nylon, provides a high level of protection against road rash. Leather is often the preferred choice of motorcycle riders due to its durability. However, ballistic nylon is also available and offers superior protection as well. You need a suit designed specifically for motorcycle riding, with longer sleeves, legs, and fabric across the shoulders to completely cover the skin while you are in the riding position. Your garments should fit comfortably. Avoid flared pants or flowing scarves, as they may become entangled in the motorcycle. Overlap between the jacket and pants can avoid exposed skin.
  • Footwear: Sturdy, over-the-ankle riding boots provide additional protection from road rash to the skin on the ankles and lower legs. The thick soles of riding boots can also shield your feet from abrasions if you have to put your foot down, and a thick tread will help keep your feet from slipping on slick surfaces.
  • Body armor: Motorcycle body armor provides additional protection against road rash and other riding hazards by offering an additional layer of protection on commonly injured places, such as the back, shoulders, elbows, hips, legs, and knees. They can come as separate pieces, such as vests, jackets, or pants, or you can wear a fully armored riding suit.

Motorcycling can be an enjoyable way to travel. Unfortunately, motorcyclists are also much more likely to be severely injured or to die in an accident than those in other types of vehicles, due to the lack of stability and protective features that are present in passenger cars. Road rash is just one of the many injuries commonly suffered by motorcyclists.

If you were injured in a motorcycle accident someone else’s negligence caused, you may face a long and expensive recovery. Contacting a motorcycle accident lawyer at the Cagle Law Firm can help you explore options that may provide the compensation you need for your recovery.

Contact Us Today

The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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