The worst injuries are easy to spot because of their startling appearance. These include open wounds, with broken skin and exposed bone, or limbs or fingers that are “bent” where they shouldn’t be. In these cases, head to your nearest emergency room.
Other bone and joint injuries requiring medical attention may be less obvious. When assessing the urgency of care needed, pay attention to pain level, and the following:
- Does the limb look different? Note if it is no longer straight, or if it is shortened.
- Is there a loss of motion or strength? The degree of the loss is a good indicator of the injury’s severity. Note also if you are able to “bear weight” on the injured joint – to stand on an injured ankle or lean on an injured wrist.
- Is it swollen? A body part that becomes very swollen in a very short period is a sign of bleeding and inflammation at the injury site.
- Is it numb or unresponsive to effort? Neurological and circulatory symptoms include the inability to move a body part (not due to pain) or numbness or discoloration of the skin.
If the answer is “no” to the above questions, the injury likely does not warrant a trip to the emergency room. But be wary of changes. If it does not improve over 24-48 hours, or if it worsens, visit a doctor or walk-in clinic.
Still some injuries that require immediate care will slip through even the above assessment. For kids, be on the lookout if they can’t use their arm normally, especially if someone pulled on it. When a child can’t straighten the elbow or turn the palm up, it’s usually a sign of a partial dislocation of the elbow.
Remember that experts warn to err on the side of caution. If in doubt, get it checked!