A crash course in cycling accidents

Posted on 9 May 2017

Cycling is an increasingly popular sport in South Africa. Avid mountain biker Dr Mike Mulder, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, advises on what you need to know about accidents both before and after a fall.

Common causes of accidents

Dr Mulder lists three main culprits that may cause you and your bike to involuntarily part ways: hitting something, losing control, and speed.

‘Whereas mountain bikers have to deal with things like trees, rocks and the like, road cyclists have unpredictable traffic to contend with, which increases the potential for serious injury substantially,’ says Dr Mulder.

Bike control is also important for preventing falls, and Dr Mulder urges especially mountain bikers to be realistic about their skills. ‘Don’t be coaxed by your mates into tackling a trail that’s above your skill level,’ he advises.

On both road and trail, speed increases not only the risk of an accident, but also the severity of injuries.

Injuries: the infamous five

Dr Mulder names these as the most common injuries sustained during cycling accidents:

  • Collarbone breaks and fractures
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation (shoulder)
  • Radial head fractures (elbow)
  • Wrist injuries
  • Rotator cuff injuries (the group of muscles and tendons keeping your shoulder together)

After an accident

They say in cycling that it’s not a matter of if you’ll fall, but when. Dr Mulder lists these basics you should know about treating someone straight after an accident:

  • Check for visible injuries.
  • If the person can stand up and move by themself, get off the road/trail to a safe space.
  • If not, or if there are signs of damage to their helmet, don’t move them.
  • If someone is unconscious or severely injured, turn them on their side.
  • Take off their shoes and socks to ease swelling of the ankle.
  • Don’t throw water in their face.
  • Immediately call an ambulance, or if you’re on a trail, go look for help.
  • Even if you are able to walk away from a fall, have yourself checked out at the nearest hospital.

 Preparing for the worst – on and off the bike

While you never know when disaster might strike, Dr Mulder mentions a couple of precautions you can take to help reduce the risk of an accident:

  • Carry your phone with you.
  • Get an SOS and tracking app.
  • Ride with a buddy. If not, tell someone when and where you’re going to ride.
  • Carry a basic first-aid kit.
  • Get fit and stay alert. Fatigue causes you to lose concentration, which may increase your risk of having an accident. The fitter you are, the longer it takes for fatigue to kick in.
  • Have fun and up skill. Cycling is about having fun ­– you’ll not only get fitter, but your handling skills will also improve.


Published in Emergency

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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