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What Is a Friction Burn?

By B. Koch
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Friction burns are a common medical problem, and in severe cases are life threatening. They occur when skin is pulled across an abrasive surface, removing layers of skin and leaving a rash or scratch marks on the skin. The most common causes of these burns are falls, and more severe burns may be the result of vehicle accidents or mechanical belts.

When layers of skin are removed through contact with an abrasive surface, it is called a friction burn. These burns are typically caused by a combination of both abrasion as well as heat occurring at the same time. These types of burns may be of a number of different intensities, and the mildest burns may only appear as a slightly pink and abraded area, while more severe burns may abrade away all levels of skin and may be very deep. These burns may be painful, and severe injuries that cause major abrasions along large parts of the body can be life threatening.

Anyone is susceptible to this type of injury, as any number of causes may result in a friction burn. Falling down and rubbing a knee or elbow on an abrasive surface can result in a minor burn. Rope burns fall into this category and many people have experienced them. They are created when rope is rapidly pulled through the hands. Rug burns are another type of common friction burn that small children are especially susceptible to when crawling, as knees may rub against carpets, causing a burn.

Sports injuries are another common cause of burns. More severe burns may be generated from vehicular accidents when a passenger is thrown from a car and skids along asphalt. This type of injury is especially common in motorcycle accidents. Spinning belts found on treadmills or any number of mechanical devices are also notorious for causing friction burns.

Most minor burns are typically not severe enough to warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. These injuries can easily be dealt with through home remedies such as washing the area thoroughly with clean water and mild, antibacterial soap, and covering the wound with a clean bandage and antibacterial cream. The burn should be examined and the bandage replaced daily, and a doctor should be consulted if there is any sign of infection. When more severe friction burns that are significantly deep or will not stop bleeding occur, a medical professional should be consulted immediately.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Aug 17, 2011

Friction burns are the reason that professional cyclists were those extremely tight shirts all the time. You may have thought it was just a fashion statement but it actually serves a pretty important purpose.

Over the course of a long bike ride a rider's shirt can rub back and forth over a rider's nipples thousands of times. After a while the nipples become irritated and can even bleed. Bikers wear extremely tight shirts so that there will be no room for friction.

This sounds like a silly problem but it can be very painful if riders do not treat it seriously. Those shirts look kind of silly but they can save regular riders a lot of discomfort.

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