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The Basics of Mountain Biking First Aid

If you’ve never been there, you will eventually: you’re going to get hurt on a mountain bike. Whether it’s a casual ride along a straight, flat road, or a rocky descent down a treacherous trail, odds are good that you’re going to get hurt. Maybe it’ll be something simple--a bee sting or a blister--but maybe you’re going to hit a root and go end-over-end down a sharp incline. Whatever the case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and being prepared and geared up for an injury is going to pay off big time. It may not seem like it in the short term--that may all just seem like extra weight you’ve got to carry in your streamlined and minimalized backpack--but when you need it, you really need it. Let’s go through some of the basics that any rider should have in their first aid kit, and then talk about how to apply those supplies to stem a possibly-severe problem.


What You Need In Your First Aid Kit
First, you should always have proper hydration. This will not only help once you’ve been injured, but it will help you prevent injuries before they happen by keeping you adequately hydrated and avoiding the side effects of dehydration like cramps, lack of focus, and shakes.

Insect Bites and Stings
First, if you’re stung or bit, get out of that area, because where there’s one insect there’s bound to be more. You may have ridden into a territorial swarm of bees that are in the process of changing nests and are trying to keep outsiders away while they protect their queen. Get out quick before you begin administering first aid.
Next, when you’re clear, look for stingers. If it was an ant bite, there may be nothing there, but if you were stung by a bee you may need to break out the tweezers and dig out the stinger before it inflames the whole area. When the stinger is out (or the bite is determined to not have a stinger lodged in it) apply antibiotic ointment and put on a bandaid. If it’s in an area that rubs a lot--the back of the knee, or in between fingers--some gauze padding might be a good idea.
When you get home, check yourself for ticks. Ticks can carry Lyme disease which is a serious affliction if left untreated. It can cause headaches, rash, and fever--and much worse if left untreated. To remove a tick, don’t try to pull it out with tweezers--this will only split it in half and leave the still-biting head stuck in your body. The easiest way to get rid of a tick is through suffocating it out: cover the area with vaseline, and it will back its way out of its little burrow in an attempt to find air.


Cuts and Scrapes
First, if you have enough water, wash your hands before cleaning the wound, and if you have latex gloves, put them on now.
Second, clean the wound with water or alcohol. You want to make sure that you don’t have any mud, stones, or pebbles in there--they’re going to have to come out eventually, and it’s so much easier to clean them out when the cut is fresh than once it’s begun to heal over. Speaking from experience, I can say that the emergency room has a toothbrush-like scrubber that they’ll eagerly take to your scab to scrub the offending particles out--and it hurts! Once you’ve cleaned it, use that antibiotic cream you’ve packed with you.
If there is a lot of blood, bandage tightly and elevate the wound if possible. Obviously, if you’re on a deserted stretch of trail with no one coming to your aid, then you’re going to want to peddle your way out of there, but even elevating your injury for ten or fifteen minutes can allow it time to coagulate and slow the bleeding.
Finally, if you think it needs stitches, get them taken care of quickly. There’s a window of time in which stitches can be performed, and waiting too long can cause much more unsightly scarring--and longer recovery times. Plus, if the damage goes all the way to the muscle, you’re going to need that repaired.

Bruises and Bone Injuries
First, get off the trail. If the trail is used by others, they might not have time to see you and your bike before they have time to stop, and you’ll be causing trouble for all of them too.
Second, try not to move the affected area too much until you can do a full assessment. An assessment includes looking for swelling, redness, bruising, and pain. Examine the area with your fingers--prod the bone or muscle to see if the injury is broad or acute. Check for numbness and tingling. Check for flexibility and movement issues. Are you having trouble flexing muscles? Curling fingers? Bending your knee? These may all be signs of underlying bone or muscle damage.
Third, address any bleeding and apply pressure where needed. This is where you’ll be glad you have those zip ties--they can hold gauze in place, can be used to make a splint, or can be used as a tourniquet in dire circumstances.
If you can’t move, it’s time to start using that whistle. Flag down other riders. If you have a cellphone and you’re in real trouble, make the 911 call. There’s no shame in getting emergency medical attention--that’s what search and rescue is there for!
If you can make it out on your own, get medical care as soon as possible.

Bleeding

If you fall and start bleeding a lot, then address that first and foremost.

Apply direct pressure to the wound--with your hand if it’s all you have, then with a cloth (shirt, clothes) or gauze. If the gauze soaks through, don’t remove it--add more and continue to apply pressure.
If the bleeding slows on its own, clean the area and apply a bandage.
If the bleeding doesn’t slow on its own, get help right away with that whistle or cellphone.
Elevate the wound.

Take care of yourself, be prepared, and have fun!


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