Even if you’re the safest rider in the world, it’s almost a statistical inevitability that you’re going to have an accident at least once during your riding life. On this blog we’ve covered a whole multitude of topics promoting safe riding and accident avoidance but even if you were to take every single snippet of advice on board, you can still fall victim to the negligence of another road user.
If you were to search for a list of the most common motorcycling injuries, you’d be surprised to discover that there isn’t a lot of literature out there that can give you a definitive answer. Here we’re going to go through some of the most common injuries suffered after an accident and try to give you an idea about how to diagnose these injuries, how they’ll be treated and how long you’ll be out of action for.
Bear in mind that this is just a general list, as no one can ever predict the outcome of a road traffic accident but if you’re aware of the damage that could be sustained, the seriousness of each injury and possibly how to avoid them altogether, you’ll be better armed to deal with an accident scenario and the aftermath with more care and attention than you may have had before.
Once again, we’d just like to mention that the headings are fairly broad but each section will go into a little more detail about specific injuries and how to deal with them
Landing on your head isn’t ideal and even the best crash helmet won’t prevent all of the many different kinds of injuries.
The brain is an incredibly delicate organ and although the skull can withstand an enormous amount shock, the brain can receive varying levels of damage from mild traumatic brain injury to the worse and more deadly severe kind. Fortunately, unlike our American cousins, wearing a helmet is the law here in the UK and your helmet can reduce your chances of receiving a fatal head injury by up to 30%.
When it comes to serious accidents that involve a prolonged loss of consciousness, you’ll be transported to a hospital and treated by a specialist who will determine whether your injuries are life threatening or not but in the event of a minor knock or fall, many motorcyclists don’t realize that they may have sustained some form of brain damage and they should visit the hospital, even if the injury doesn’t appear to be life threatening.
After an accident, if you feel any of the following symptoms, you should go and get yourself checked out immediately:
There is no set healing time for a head injury, as each case is different; in fact, health professionals are regularly baffled by the brain as some injured patients with horrendous injuries miraculously recover against all odds, while a small bump on the head to another could end disastrously. With that in mind, make sure that you wear a proper helmet, all the time you’re riding and don’t forget to replace it regularly.
Broken bones are a regular feature on the motorcycle injury list and it’s pretty obvious why: two wheels fall over when stationary or brought to a short, sharp stop.
Your arms and hands will instinctively defend your torso and face from any impact, your legs and feet can be trapped and crushed under falling machinery and then there’s the simple matter of the collarbone and ribs: if you’ve ever met a motorcyclist that has had an accident, you can be sure that they’ve suffered a broken collarbone at least once and even that is usually accompanied by a rib or two.
In the worst case scenario, the neck, back or pelvis can be broken and that’s not good news; a broken neck or back can lead to spinal injuries (see below), paralysis and a lifetime of discomfort and limited movement, while a pelvis fracture can either be fairly small and mild or it can be incredibly severe, requiring the victim to walk with the aid of walking sticks or crutches for the rest of their lives.
A regular broken bone, like the wrist or leg can usually be remedied through re-straightening and a spell in a cast, often lasting six weeks or longer; it’s not uncommon to have to undergo a course of physiotherapy afterwards too, as the muscles around the affected area often wither and lose their strength.
The collarbone is an awkward bone to break, primarily because it’s axis of motion; usual treatment can include surgery, where the bone is reconnected with plates and pins. In some cases the collarbone can repair naturally with the aid of a figure of eight sling that keeps your arms in place and restricts your movements. The recovery time is usually six to eight weeks but even after it has healed it’s not uncommon to feel discomfort in the break region for the rest of your life, especially in cold weather.
If you suspect that you’ve got a broken bone, look for signs of discolouration around the suspected area and check for numbness or abnormal positioning. If you can see a clear break or the bone itself, get thee to the hospital!
Thanks to the advancement of the quality of modern riding gear, spinal injuries don’t necessarily have to be life threatening anymore although having one is not ideal. The spine is protected by the vertebrae but if you’re going out for a ride, you should invest in a decent back plate and body armour to give your vertebrae some help; otherwise paralysis is a very real threat.
A minor spinal injury could be as much cracked vertebrae and even that is very serious. If you’re involved in an accident and feel pain in your back or neck afterwards, do not move and remain as motionless as you can until trained professionals arrive. Any event to move could potentially make things worse. Similarly, if you’re involved in an accident and feel absolutely nothing, try not to struggle or panic; wait for help to come to you.
Like many of the injuries listed, when it comes to the spine, neck and nervous system, there is no way to tell how serious an accident is until you’ve been seen by a specialist. In the event of a serious spinal injury, you may lose the ability to walk altogether and could face a long road to recovery.
A recent survey from the USA noted that injuries to the lower extremities were the most common type of motorcycle accident; this includes the broken bones as covered above and also more serious injuries that involves the loss of limbs, loss of toes, severe burns, torn muscles and tissue and deep cuts. This information may have come from the States, which has a more relaxed attitude towards riding attire than the UK and Europe but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to avoid getting hurt down there!
These accidents are usually caused because the rider has worn inappropriate leg wear. We’re all guilty of wearing jeans, despite the fact that we all know that jeans are only two steps above useless in a crash scenario. The best way to avoid damage to the legs and feet is to wear leather or specifically designed textile composite trousers with armour and sturdy riding boots that cover your ankles, if not more.
Injuries to the legs and feet are fairly easy to diagnose and for the most part, they’re fairly superficial injuries that require no more than stitches, ointment, a good dressing and a few weeks. An exhaust burn, however, is not the same as a toe, foot or leg amputation which could put an end to your riding life, as well as your working one. Wearing the correct gear is crucial to keeping your lower extremities out of harms way, or at least in the ‘minor injuries’ category. If you’ve got the stomach for it, there is a video floating around on Youtube of a female rider who thought riding around on a motorcycle in her bikini was fun until she crashed and lost her leg. The aftermath footage may or may not still be there (although it’s probably been removed by now and you’ll have to find it on less popular vid-sharing sites) but we’re not going back for a second look and we’re certainly not going to expose you to it!
And then there was road rash! We naturally shed skin over the course of our lives but nothing speeds the process up faster than a slide along the road.
Road rash happens when you find sliding along the road at speed (in fact any speed higher than stationary) without the proper protection. Imagine sliding down a children’s slide that’s made entirely out of a really heavy grit sandpaper and you’ll get the idea.
Road rash isn’t a winter injury - it usually occurs during the summer for some reason. In the winter, it’s cold and you dress appropriately but when the sun shines many motorcyclists forget their common sense and go out for a ride in their jeans and a t-shirt, some have even been spotted this year wearing shorts, trainers and vests – no lie.
We’ve all been told that skin only lasts about x amount of centimetres, meters (insert and delete as appropriate) when sliding along the floor so why do so many of us insist on forgetting that advice? Luckily, the UK statistics are much more attractive to the eye than the ones from some of our friends in the warmer climates but that doesn’t mean that we’re better riders: it means that the temperature is low enough for us to wear decent gear all year round.
Road rash in its mildest form is a horrible skin abrasion that looks as angry as it feels, it needs thorough cleaning and a decent dressing and the discomfort can last weeks, especially around the joints and your other moving parts. In its worst form, you’ll require some serious medical attention as it can expose the tissues, fat and even bone in rare cases. Although it does heal, you’ll probably be left with a patch of light coloured skin where the abrasion happened. Also, your other biker friends will laugh at you. Definitely.
Avoid it by wearing the right gear, all the time and covering up any area that may get exposed with the correct safety device.
So there you have it: the most common motorcycling injuries, what they are and how to avoid them. If you’re wearing the best gear and riding appropriately, you should only ever have to encounter the more minor injuries on the list but even then you’re not fully protected.
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