What Is A Friction Burn

  • Chisom MaduechesiBEd Kinesiology and Exercise Science, University of Lagos, Nigeria

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Friction burns happened to everyone. Remember when you were in a hurry trying to catch up with someone, and for some unknown reason, you tripped over your feet and fell with your skin making sharp contact with the wall.

The sight of your skin, a moist reddish soft layer, made you feel awkward and want to cry; such experiences are usually very painful.

Friction burns happen all the time, but they can be avoided and well treated. 

In today's article, I will tell you everything you need to know about friction burn to not experience it again. 

What is a friction burn?

A friction burn is a wound caused when the skin is scraped off by coming in contact with a rough or abrasive surface. It occurs when either the person or the surface is moving at high speed, resulting in burned, blistered, or deeply wounded skin. It can also be referred to as an abrasion or a heat burn. 

Friction burn injuries are the most extreme cases of friction burn which can be classified as second or third-degree burns. This is because all three layers of the skin are affected.

Causes of friction burns

Many scenarios could lead to a friction burn, some of which include; 

  • Falling and rubbing a knee or elbow on a rough surface could lead to a minor burn
  • Rope burns; They occur when a rope is rapidly pulled through the hands
  • Rug burn is another common type of friction burn that little children are prone to, especially when crawling, as knees may rub against carpets, causing a burn
  • Spinning belts found on treadmills are also notorious for causing friction burns
  • Some sport injuries can also be considered as friction burn

More severe burns may occur after road accidents when a passenger is thrown from a car and skids along asphalt. This type of injury is especially common in motorcycle accidents - Road rash.

10 common signs and symptoms of friction burn

Friction burns should be taken seriously as they can quickly progress into more serious infections. The earlier infections are detected, the better the overall victim outcome.

Here are the common indications:

1. Skin redness

One of the initial signs of a friction burn is redness in the affected area. This redness can be localized or cover a larger surface.

2. Skin irritation

The skin in the affected area may become irritated, presenting discomfort, itching, or a burning sensation.

3. Blisters

Friction burns can lead to the formation of blisters filled with clear fluid. These blisters can differ in size and are usually painful. 

4. Skin breakdown

In more severe cases, prolonged or intense friction can cause the outer layer of the skin to break down, resulting in open sores or ulcers.

5. Swelling

Swelling can occur in and around the affected area due to inflammation caused by the friction.

6. Pain

Friction burns are often painful, especially when the skin is irritated, blistered, or broken.

7. Itchiness

Itchiness is a common symptom, especially during the healing process, as the skin regenerates.

8. Scabbing and crusting

As the friction burn heals, scabs or crusts may form over the affected area.

9. Skin discoloration

After healing, the affected area may have some degree of skin discolouration, which can range from pink to brown.

10. Infection

Friction burns can become infected if not properly cared for. Signs of infection include increased pain, redness, warmth, pus, or fever.

It is important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the degree of friction and the individual's skin type and sensitivity.

Degrees of friction burns

First-degree friction burns (Superficial)

A first-degree burn is a superficial wound that affects only the outermost layer of skin, known as the epidermis. The skin will look red and feel tender. However, there would not be any wetness or blistering. This burn can heal on its own in around a week without leaving any scars. 

Second-degree friction burns (Partial-thickness)

Second-degree friction burns affect both the outer layer of skin (the epidermis) and the inner layer of skin (the dermis). This type of burn makes the skin appear red, shiny, and wet (it is wet due to loss of plasma). It is usually painful to the touch and can turn into a blister over time. It takes about two weeks to heal.

Third-degree friction burns (Full-thickness)

This type of burn not only damages the epidermis and dermis but also goes deeper to damage the nerves, leaving the victim painless. Instead of a red and shiny wound bed, this burn can appear black, brown, white, or yellow.

These strange colours are due to the excessive loss of plasma from the injury, which could lead to shock and, eventually death. 

Third-degree friction burns are sometimes life-threatening and would require medical intervention to help heal. There is a high probability of scars after this wound has healed. 

Treatment of friction burn

Friction burns work by rubbing the skin and building up minor burns, such as first-degree burns, and can be treated at home by running lukewarm water over the affected area and then covering it with a pain-relieving antibacterial topical ointment or vaseline.

Burns that have developed blistering require medical attention.

Try as much as possible to not pop the blisters, as this can open the door for infection.

Once the burn heals, protect the area from the sun by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, or applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. This will help minimize scarring, 

Third-degree friction burns are considered medical emergencies. They can also be life-threatening and will require medical intervention. 

This includes; 

  • Cleaning the wound bed 
  • Placing skin grafts on the wounds
  • Overnight stays in the hospital, depending on the size and severity of the injury

Effects of friction burn

Immediate pain and discomfort

One of the initial effects of a friction burn is pain and discomfort. The damaged skin becomes sensitive to touch, making it painful to move or engage in activities.

Risk of infection

An overlooked aspect of friction burns is the risk of infection. When the protective barrier of the skin is compromised, bacteria can easily enter, leading to infections. Keeping the wound clean and covered is crucial to prevent this.

Scarring and discoloration

Friction burns can leave behind scars and skin discolouration. Healing may result in the formation of hypertrophic scars or keloids, which can be aesthetically displeasing and sometimes require additional treatment.

Emotional impact

Apart from physical effects, friction burns can have an emotional impact. Dealing with pain, scarring, or disfigurement can affect an individual's self-esteem and body image.

Long-term complications

Severe friction burns can penetrate deeper layers of the skin, potentially damaging blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. In such cases, long-term complications like nerve damage and reduced mobility are possible 

Delayed healing

In some cases, particularly with larger or deeper burns, healing can be slow. This can prolong the pain and discomfort associated with friction burns.

Hyperpigmentation

Friction burns may cause areas of hyperpigmentation, where the skin becomes darker than the surrounding tissue. This can have a long-lasting effect and may impact the appearance of the affected area.

Prevention of friction burn

Friction burns do not usually require surgeries unless they are life-threatening, i.e. full thickness, and they are preventable. 

Preventive measures include:

Wearing protective gear

When engaging in sports or activities that have a high risk of friction burn, such as cycling, skateboarding, or contact sports, always wear the appropriate protective gear. This includes helmets, knee and elbow pads, gloves, and padded clothing.

Proper technique

When participating in activities like weightlifting or gymnastics, ensure you use proper form and technique to minimize unnecessary friction and skin contact with equipment.

Prevent road accidents by abiding by the government's implementation of traffic regulations on speed.

When using the treadmill, the safety cord should always be worn, The safety cord should clip to your clothing. In case of a fall, the treadmills will turn off once the safety cord is detached from it. 

FAQs

How long does a rug burn last?

It can last for about a week, during which it heals on its own. But this also depends on the severity of the burn; if it stays longer than han a week, seek medical attention.

Can you put Vaseline on a rug burn?

Yes, you can apply a thin layer of Petroleum jelly to the burn two to three times daily. This can help the burned area retain moisture and heal more quickly.

Summary

Friction burns are skin injuries caused by contact with rough surfaces, ranging from mild abrasions to severe wounds. Preventive measures, like wearing protective gear during activities, play a crucial role in avoiding friction burns. In case of minor burns, immediate first aid is essential. Rinse the affected area with cold water, clean it, and cover it to prevent infection. To promote healing, it's important to avoid further friction on the injured site.

For more severe friction burns, seeking medical attention is imperative. These burns can lead to complications like blistering, tissue damage, or infection. Timely medical care ensures proper assessment and treatment. Healthcare professionals can provide specialized care, including wound cleaning, pain management, and dressing changes.

Finally, understanding friction burns, taking preventive measures, and providing timely first aid or seeking medical attention for severe burns are essential for effective management and optimal recovery.

References

  1. Agrawal, A., et al. “Friction Burns: Epidemiology and Prevention.” Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters, vol. 21, no. 1, Mar. 2008, pp. 3–6. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3188131/.
  2. How to Treat a First-Degree, Minor Burn. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-minor-burns. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Chisom Maduechesi

BEd Kinesiology and Exercise Science, University of Lagos, Nigeria

My name is Chisom Maduechesi an undergraduate of Human Kinetics at the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

I am a blogger and a dedicated health writer with years of experience creating written content that resonates with my audience.

I started writing health content to make "Health is Wealth" a reality for everyone.

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