BASIC FIRST-AID FOR CYCLISTS

Shaun George BOTS Guides

As cyclists, we’ve all had a fall off our bikes somewhere along the line – it’s something that is inevitable with only two wheels on your wagon. At most times, you’re going to get away with a scrape or a bruise. In the event of something more serious, it’s always good to be prepared.

While in most cases the worst injury you could sustain is a bruise or road rash. Something more serious such as broken bones or twisted ankles are not the most common – not much can be done about such serious injuries with regards to first-aid, but knowing what to do when you face such situations can help keep the injury as painless and complication-free as possible.

For the most part, your injuries will be superficial and you should be able to continue riding after some first-aid. When cyclists fall, they fall in a fairly predictable manner; your knees and elbows are usually the first to take the blow of an impact in case of a fall.

TYPES OF INJURIES

Bicycle falls usually lead to superficial injuries – rarely does anything more severe take place. Let’s look at some of the most common types of cycling-related injuries and how you can attend to them.

TREATING CUTS AND BRUISES

The pavement may look smooth when it’s gliding under your wheels, but it’s not too forgiving if you hurtle towards it. Riders pick up bruises and cuts in almost any accident  A cut is when the surface of the skin has completely opened up and flesh is exposed. In this situation, your first priority should be to clean any debris or residue that could enter the open wound and cause an infection.

Clean the wound with fresh water or an alcohol swab immediately as it will keep any infections at bay. Be careful not to push any of the dirt back into the wound as it will be hard to take out later. You can expect some amount of bleeding. Apply some pressure and raise your arm/leg to stop the bleeding, by then a clot would have formed stopping the blood flow. If the wound is really exposed it’s better to use a cotton gauze and lightly wrap it around the wound. If it’s not too big a wound then keeping it exposed will help it heal and dry up faster.

For the really nasty cuts, stem the bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean cloth – use your fingers if you don’t have anything else suitable. It’s important to raise the injury above their body if possible, this will ensure that the bleeding stops. Consult medical professionals if the bleeding continues.

TREATING SPRAINS

Sprains can occur in case you land awkwardly off the bike. They can end up being quite painful but aren’t a cause for too much concern. It’s important you avoid applying any pressure on the sprained area as that will just aggravate the swelling. Apply cold water immediately after the sprain as it will numb the pain and reduce the swelling. If you have access to an ice pack that would be ideal, you can apply the ice on the sprained area for 10-15 mins. After the first day, you can begin to use a hot water bag to help heal the sprain faster. Give the sprain 2-3 days to heal – after this, you can begin to resume mild exercises and activities.

TREATING HEAD INJURIES

You never know how or where you’re going to land when you fall so it’s important that you always wear a helmet, no matter how short your ride may be.

Look for cuts or lumps on the head or a damaged helmet which might suggest an impact – a rider might not be aware that they’ve hit their head. Head injuries could potentially be very serious as they affect a very crucial organ in your body, which is why it’s important to seek medical advice if a head injury is suspected.

The severity of the injury depends on how hard the impact was. A minor head injury just requires a short rest period and some ice treatment. More serious head injuries are best handled by medical professionals, so try and get the patient some professional medical assistance at the earliest. Head injuries over time may have side effects on mental health and cognitive functioning.

DEHYDRATION

The average cyclist is already in a hydration deficit even before he/she has begun riding. This is the first step you can take to avoid complications while cycling – drink up well before you begin your ride.

Another point to keep in mind is hydrating frequently – If you wait to drink until you’re thirsty, you’re already too late. Thirst kicks in when you’re about two percent dehydrated. We’d recommend taking a small sip out of your sipper every 10-15 mins during a ride. Mix in some sort of hydration solution/ORS to help get the most out of every sip.

If it’s too late and you’re already dehydrated you’re also probably going to suffer from muscle pulls and cramps. If this does happen, stretch and massage the affected muscles to soothe them, Hydrate sufficiently and gradually continue your activity.

What Should a First-Aid Kit Include?

  • Sterile gauze pads of different sizes
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Alcohol wipes
  • 1 ORS Sachet
  • Surgical tape
  • Small Dettol bottle

SUMMARY

Mishaps while cycling can’t fully be avoided but can definitely be reduced by following some simple tips –

  • Be safe – anticipate the actions of other motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists. Follow the rules of the road.
  • Be seen – wear high-vis clothing. Use bike lights if you ride at night or early in the mornings.
  • Cover up – Long-sleeved jerseys reduce the severity of bruises, as do gloves. A properly fitted bike helmet can lower the chance of a head injury – replace them every 5-6 years, or in case it meets with an impact.
  • First-aid kit – carry a small first aid kit, with some sterile dressings and bandages.

Something to remember in all cases is to remain calm and clam the patient in need. Panicking to find a solution to the problem will always lead to more confusion and will most likely do more harm than good. It’s important to give the injury time to heal on its own. This means that you need to restrict your physical activity and give your body a break to heal fully before you get back on your bicycle even stronger. Every injury is also a lesson that you learn from and remember for the rest of your life.

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