By Martha Smith, FNP-BC

That split second…a subtle hesitation, the mere thought of anticipation by the rider or the horse and that winning run becomes a disappointing “no time” or “plus 5” because of a downed barrel. Not only do you not win any money, you may end up with a cut and a bruise the size of a baseball on your shin. Do you know what you should do to ensure healing and hasten your recovery? The sooner you treat or seek treatment for an injury, the better the outcome. Proper care of wounds and injuries can help prevent complications such as infection, poor healing and even scarring. The simple steps outlined below can help ease recovery. 

0314 healthwiseIStockPrompt and conscientious attention to wound care helps prevent complications. IStock photo.

Cuts and abrasions

 Stop the bleeding. A little blood is good and actually helps to clean the wound. Most minor cuts or scrapes will stop bleeding with little or no treatment. If not, apply gentle but firm pressure with a clean cloth, tissue or bandage. If necessary, apply pressure continuously for 20 to 30 minutes and elevate the wounded extremity. Do not remove the bandage to check the wound as this will restart the bleeding. If necessary, reinforce the pressure dressing with another clean bandage or gauze. If blood spurts or the bleeding does not respond to continuous pressure, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Clean the wound immediately with clean water. Try to remove any dirt, rocks or fabric particles. If you are unable to flush out the foreign material with water, use tweezers cleansed with alcohol to remove it. If any foreign material remains, seek medical attention immediately. Clean the area around the wound with soap and water. This vigorous cleaning reduces the chance of infection and tetanus. Avoid using more irritating cleansers, such as hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or iodine to cleanse the wound. In recent studies, these substances have been found to impede wound healing.
  • After cleansing the wound, assess the severity of the injury. Any wound that is found to be more than ¼-inch deep, has gaping or jagged edges, or has muscle or fat protruding will require stitches. Wounds requiring stitches need to be treated in a timely manner. 
  • After thoroughly cleansing the wound, apply a thin layer of antibiotic cream or ointment to keep the wound moist and help prevent infection. If a rash occurs after using the ointment, stop applying it. Some people are allergic to these ointments.
  • Cover the wound with a bandage or other dressing to keep it clean and prevent irritation and further injury. After the initial stages of healing, exposure of the wound to air may aid in healing. Change the dressing daily or when it becomes soiled or wet.  
  •  Get a tetanus shot. Everyone needs to have a tetanus shot every 10 years. If the wound is very dirty or deep and it has been over 5 years since your last shot, a booster shot is recommended. Get your tetanus shot or booster as soon as possible after the injury or during your yearly checkup as a preventative.
  •  Monitor the wound closely. Your body begins healing itself immediately after any injury. White blood cells migrate to the injury to attack any bacteria. Red blood cells, platelets and fibrin form a protective clot or a scab over the wound. If any redness, increase in pain, warmth, swelling or drainage occur, seek medical treatment immediately.

 Bumps and bruises

What about the black and blue or purple bruise that can occur with trauma to the shin? A bruise or hematoma forms when a direct blow damages the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. This broken vessel allows blood to leak into the tissues around the injury. The body is usually able to repair the damaged vessel by signaling the blood-clotting cascade and forming a fibrin patch. This blood that escaped from the vessel is trapped in the tissue and is very irritating and may cause swelling, pain and even redness. Early treatment for this injury may help ease the pain and prevent complications.

  • Elevate the injured extremity.
  • Apply ice as soon as possible and continue this for a day or two, as many times as possible.
  • Rest the injured area.
  • Seek medical attention if the bruise is unusually large or painful.

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Battle scars

Most barrel racers’ shins reveal many battle scars. The best scar prevention is good wound care. But despite the best of care, many of these injuries still leave scars. Some people are just more prone to scarring than others. What can you do to minimize these scars?

  • Wear sunscreen. This helps prevent the hyperpigmentation or darkening of the scar.  Choose sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Silicone gel sheets applied to the scar every day for about three months may help fade the scar and prevent its appearance from worsening. These sheets can be found at any pharmacy.
  • Massaging the scar several times each day for 15 to 30 seconds can help break down collagen and scar tissue.  Use any lotion or petroleum jelly after the wound has healed.  
  • Protecting the scar and avoiding re-injury is very important to decrease the amount of scarring.

Unfortunately, cuts, scrapes and bruises are common barrel racing injuries. While most do not require a trip to the clinic or emergency room, early treatment is necessary to prevent complications. Careful attention to wound care can help prevent infection and scarring. If you are unsure if you should seek medical care, it is urgent that you do so in a timely manner. Even if the injury is deemed minor, your healthcare provider can instruct you as to the best treatment for your injury to help prevent complications.

Martha Smith resides in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a small community south of Jackson, and has been a member of the NBHA for 15 years, competing actively in Mississippi District 05. In 2006, she earned the Open 3D Mid-South National championship and has qualified for numerous NBHA World Shows. Smith now serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi School of Nursing in the Family Nurse Practitioner program, teaching registered nurses how to become nurse practitioners. Email comments on this article to [email protected].


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