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What is a friction burn?

Keith Roach, MD
Internal Medicine
Rubbing one surface over another causes heat and mechanical wear to the surfaces. Very fast, forceful rubbing, such as dragging someone’s entire body weight over a carpet, causes loss of the superficial skin layers and creates the appearance of a burn. These can be very painful and skin regrowth is slow. Infection is a potential problem, so serious friction burns should be covered with an ointment, which keeps the affected area moist and protected.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine
When we refer to a burn, we typically think of an injury caused by high heat or a flame. Friction -- the force you feel when two surfaces drag against each other (such as a hand holding a rope or knees on carpet) -- can actually cause heat as well, leading to what we call a "friction burn." This usually causes damage to the top layer of skin, leading to redness, not unlike the appearance of a sunburn. More severe friction burns (such as having a rope rapidly pulled through your hands) can cause deeper skin damage, leading to blistering. Friction burns that lead to loss of the top layer of skin or blisters are at risk of infection, so they need to be kept clean and dry.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.