Trailside Medicine: Lacerations

Trailside Medicine: Skin Laceration Management

A traumatic tear in the skin is called a laceration, and this injury is not uncommon among mountain bikers. Here’s what to do when you (or a friend) get shredded on the trail.

Stop the Bleeding

The first step in treatment is to control bleeding. This can usually be accomplished with direct pressure, using a clean piece of cloth or gauze. Seek emergency care immediately if the bleeding is severe or blood is spurting out.

Dr. Jesse Coenen, MD

Cleaning the Wound

Cleaning the area is next. It is necessary to remove all dirt and debris, as well as bacteria that you cannot see. Run copious amounts of tap water over the area, and use mild soap if needed. Continue until the wound looks clean. Light scrubbing might be required. If it is too painful to clean thoroughly, then numbing medicine may be necessary. An inspection of the entire wound needs to be done, as well as an assessment of nerve and muscle function. Deep or wide lacerations require professional medical care, and should generally be closed within 6 hours. Notably, short lacerations that are not under tension may be closed with superglue. Also, tetanus immunization status should be assessed.


If professional medical care is not warranted, then proceed by applying ointment (unless superglue was used) and a clean bandage, and change this dressing daily until the wound is well healed.


Dr Jesse Coenen lives in Duluth to take advantage of the awesome natural areas and trail access. He practices family medicine and sports medicine.

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