Cycling is a full body exercise, putting a wide spectrum of the human anatomy at-risk for injury. From scraped knees to traumatic brain injuries, bicycling is a fun but potentially dangerous activity. It is important to follow the rules of the road, keep an eye out for motor vehicles and debris in the road, and wear protective gear. Below are some of the most common injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.
Acute Injuries: Road Rash, Contusions, and Lacerations
First, let’s consider the event of falling from the bicycle. With the lack of a protective mechanical barrier between the rider and the road, bruises, cuts, and road rash are common injuries. The mechanism of road rash involves friction applied to the surface of the skin. This is distinguished from lacerations, which involve a puncture to the skin, usually in a linear direction. Contusions and lacerations are most common on knees and elbows and can typically be treated at home. Depending on the extent of skin injury, road rash injuries can usually be treated with home treatment. Even with home treatment, however, proper attention is important because the skin is our body’s first line of defense. Ignoring proper cleansing and/or coverage techniques can result in infection. In addition, because nerve endings are located in the skin, these injuries can be quite painful. If the wound is larger than three times the size of your hand, if muscle or bone is visible, foreign objects are embedded in the affected area (such as glass or small rocks), there is excessive bleeding, or you notice signs of infection, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately.
Next, let’s consider a sudden stop of a bicycle that thrusts the cyclist forward, such as impacting a car, or striking a static object. In these cases, the mechanism of the sudden stop can result in various types of intra-abdominal injuries. The abdominal cavity contains the spleen, liver, bowel, pancreas and kidney (among other organs). Studies on these types of injuries found that external bruising is a strong indicator for internal injury. For that reason, complaints after this type of blunt trauma should be taken seriously.
A sudden stop of a bicycle can also result in the cyclist’s body being thrown over the handlebars. In these cases, the type of injury will depend on which body part contacts the ground. For example, landing on an outstretched hand can result in a distal radius fracture (wrist fracture) or a scaphoid fracture. Proper medical attention is necessary to evaluate what type of treatment is optimal.
If the cyclist is unable to put his/her hand out in a protective maneuver, often the cyclist will land on the top of their shoulder. This can result in an injury called an AC separation (more commonly known as a separated shoulder.) This injury involves the separation of the acromion (A) (part of the scapula or shoulder blade) from the clavicle (C) or the collarbone. The severity of the injury is divided into three grades—Grade I (mild), Grade II (moderate), and Grade III (severe).
If the cyclist does not land on an outstretched hand or on the top of the shoulder, facial injuries are the next type of injury that may occur in cycling accidents. Even when one wears a helmet, injury to the face including eye, dental and facial bones is possible. Medical evaluation in these types of injuries is critical.
Head injuries are responsible for most fatalities and long-term disabilities associated with bicycling. Should a bicyclist hit their head when they fall off their bike, the potential for a traumatic brain injury is high; the impact does not need to be high-speed for the rider to sustain a concussion. Symptoms of a brain injury can include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea/vomiting, loss of coordination, depression, and memory loss. If a cyclist hits their head while riding their bike, it is crucial that they seek medical attention immediately. Studies suggest wearing a properly fitted helmet can help reduce brain injuries by 50%.
Evaluation of Injuries
If you have been involved in a cycling accident, it is important to do a quick evaluation of injuries. While some symptoms may take a few days or weeks to present themselves, these are some important things to look out for immediately after an accident.
- Breathe – Take a deep breath. If you have trouble breathing or feel pain in your chest, there is a chance you broke your ribs or punctured a lung. This demands a visit to the emergency room.
- Stomach – Did you hit the handlebars or a foreign object? Use your hands to gently press on your stomach to see if there are any sore or tender spots.
- Bleeding – Use your first aid kit to bandage any external bleeding. Check for distended or firm areas to see if there is potential for internally bleeding.
- Move – Move your extremities to determine if a bone is fractured or broken.
- Spine and Neck – Check for numbness, tingling, or inability to move fingers/toes, and turn your neck side to side to ensure you did not damage your cervical spine.
- Head – If you hit your head, have a cracked helmet, or have any symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, seek medical attention immediately.
If you are injured in a bicycle accident, our bicycle accident attorneys can help. Call us at 303-355-7202 for a free consultation to discuss how we can help you recover compensation for your injuries.
This is not medical advice. It is imperative to visit a medical professional if you are concerned you have a severe injury.