While the number of bicycle accidents in the United States is declining, these accidents still occur on a frequent basis—often leaving riders with injuries.
Naturally, due to the lack of protection that a bike provides, outcomes can range from minor scrapes and bruises to devastating head injuries and spinal trauma.
Here are 14 of the most common injuries that come from bicycle accidents.
1. Head injuries
Per a New York City study, head injuries account for 74% of bicyclist fatalities, making them the leading cause of death by a wide margin.
There are a variety of head injuries that can occur, and many of them—such as brain trauma and other injuries to the nervous system—can be life-threatening.
This means that wearing a helmet is often a matter of life or death. According to Stephens Law, helmets reduce the fatality rate by 75%.
Particularly when traveling at high speeds, the average collision will result in bruising of some kind. Common areas for bruising include hands, elbows, knees, and other body parts that are used to break a fall during a collision.
While most contusions can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), some contusions can be serious and may even point to internal injuries.
Fractures typically occur when a bicyclist is launched from their bike in a crash, or when a limb is pinned between the bike and a vehicle.
A simple fracture may only take 4 – 6 weeks to fully heal. Other fractures, such as compound fractures and open fractures, may take several months and may require surgery.
In bike accidents, abrasions are fairly common—particularly when asphalt is involved.
In fact, the term “road rash” is often used to describe abrasions that bicyclists experience when their bodies make contact with the pavement. Abrasions can also occur when the rider attempts to break a fall with their hands.
5. Sprains and strains
A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament, while a strain is the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon.
Both of these injuries can occur during a bicycle accident, as the rider’s body may be forced into positions that are unnatural. While a light muscle strain will resolve on its own, a torn ligament may require surgery and rehabilitation.
6. Internal bleeding
Internal bleeding—also known as hemorrhaging—can be an especially difficult injury to self-diagnose, as it’s an injury that typically isn’t seen.
If a rider experiences symptoms of fatigue, light-headedness, or dizziness after an accident, it’s highly recommended that they seek immediate medical attention, as internal bleeding can be life-threatening. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 60,000 Americans die from internal bleeding each year.
7. Spinal injuries
Spinal injuries are among the most devastating injuries that bicyclists can sustain, as they often require riders to seek long-term rehabilitation for a full recovery.
Common spinal injuries include fractured or herniated discs that can cause a significant amount of back pain. In the direst circumstances, a rider who is involved in a severe accident may even be rendered paralyzed.
The sheer impact of a bicycle accident can easily cause a dislocated joint, whether it’s at the shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle, or another area of the body.
A dislocation is typically a very painful injury that requires a doctor to pop the joint back into place and assess damage to ligaments and surrounding tissue. A minor dislocation will often heal after being immobilized for a period of time. However, major dislocations may require surgery.
Lacerations occur when sharp objects scrape or pierce the body. In the event of a bicycle accident, there are a handful of objects that could cause a laceration—such as a piece of metal, a curb, or debris.
While minor cuts can be treated by rinsing the wound, applying ointment, and wrapping it in a bandage, deeper cuts may require immediate medical attention in order to prevent significant blood loss or infection.
10. Dental fractures
While bicycle helmets are designed to protect the brain and the area surrounding it, the mouth is not protected and is still susceptible to injury.
Collisions with other vehicles, objects, or even the pavement can result in dental fractures and bruises—injuries that may require significant dental work or surgery to repair.
11. Eye trauma
Bicycle injuries don’t always involve crashes with other vehicles or objects. Dirt and debris can easily enter a rider’s eye while they are traveling at high speeds, as a helmet typically only protects the top and sides of the head—leaving the bicyclist’s face exposed.
This can often result in lacerations and corneal foreign body accidents that require swift medical attention. For this reason, it’s recommended that all bicyclists protect their eyes by wearing wrap-around sunglasses.
12. Genital injuries
Unfortunately for many bicyclists, the seat of a bicycle can sometimes do more harm than good. Genital injuries—often referred to as straddle injuries—can occur when a bump or divot in the road causes the rider to fall onto the seat with force.
While many incidents may only involve mild pain and bruising, other injuries may come with more severe symptoms—such as bleeding, nausea, and vomiting.
13. Knee pain
Many riders cite knee pain as a common cycling injury, but it’s an injury that doesn’t always occur because of a single incident. Rather, knee pain can build up over time for a number of reasons.
Knee soreness can be the result of overuse, tendonitis, cartilage deterioration, or even a poor-fitting bike. While some of these circumstances will require you to seek medical treatment, it’s wise to make sure you’re using the right-sized bike!
14. Neck injuries
Neck injuries are fairly common in traffic accidents, whether it’s a collision between two passenger cars or a bicycle crash.
Whiplash is perhaps the most common neck injury, as impact to a bicyclist from any angle can result in an unnatural torquing motion of the neck. This often leaves the rider with sore muscles and ligaments that can take upwards of a few weeks to fully heal.