In terms of immediate tissue damage, mat burns are on par with first-degree heat burns. However, because the surfaces associated with mat burn are notorious breeding grounds for MRSA (antibiotic-resistant Staph germs), ringworm fungus (athlete's foot/jock itch), hepatitis and impetigo (a rash of small, oozing sores), you must take extra special precautions to prevent infection at the burn site.
"Mat burn" can refer to any kind of skin burn caused by the heat of friction against a surface, including wrestling mats, martial arts studio flooring, basketball courts, weight lifting machines and even football pads. To help prevent the colonization of dangerous microbes on mats, athletes should adopt a pre- and post-practice ritual of wiping down the mat and walls with a solution of mat cleaner and bleach.
For wrestling, football, judo and other high-contact sports, players should be required to shower immediately after practice using antifungal/antibacterial liquid soap. Use a soap product with chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) as the main active ingredient. Note: surprisingly, the dangerous MRSA strain of bacteria colonizes most frequently on the skin of the nose and hands; therefore, make sure to scrub these particular areas properly.
Treating a Mat Burn
At first sign of a mat burn, put on latex safety gloves and cleanse the entire burn (including a 1-inch border of surrounding skin) with Hibiclens, an antimicrobial and antiseptic cleanser effective against MRSA. Next, open a sterile package of gauze bandages and lay the folded pad on top of the burn. Finally, secure the bandage with sterile athletic tape across all four edges.
For the first two days, apply a new bandage (including Hibiclens treatment) to the site every 6 to 8 hours. Non-contact workouts are allowed as soon as the first bandage is applied. However, full-contact workouts and competitions should be avoided until a scab is fully-formed and hardened. Continue covering and cleansing the burn until the skin is completely healed (i.e. no scab and minimal discoloration).
Also, throughout the healing process, be on the lookout for small bumps or tiny "white-head" pustules around the burn; this could be a sign of a potentially life-threatening MRSA infection. If you notice any pimple-like growths on your burn, get yourself to a clinic or hospital immediately.
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