Orthopedic injuries, like fractures or dislocations, occur in many ways. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, and trauma in sports can cause all kinds of musculoskeletal maladies. Knowing if an injury is serious can be challenging. Here are some signs that an orthopedic injury might need evaluation in an emergency room or hospital emergency department.
The bone is crooked or out of place
Visible deformity of a body part suggests a serious injury, like a fracture or dislocation. Usually angulation of a long bone is obvious. Comparing it to the uninjured side can help demonstrate a more subtle deformity. Evaluation of the injury and possible reduction of the injury to put it in proper position might be needed.
The injured area is very swollen.
A fracture often causes swelling in the soft tissues that surround the bone as blood leaks into the area. Mild swelling might not be serious, but a large amount of swelling might suggest a fracture or more serious joint injury.
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You can’t bear weight.
A lower extremity injury can be very painful. The pain can make it difficult to put weight on that side. A leg injury that is unstable, like a fracture or dislocation, can make it nearly impossible to bear weight as well.
The bone is poking through the skin.
If the bone can be seen through an incision or laceration in the skin, an open fracture is present. An open fracture presents a risk of infection if not treated urgently. An orthopedic surgeon treats the fracture surgically to remove foreign material and devitalized tissue and thoroughly irrigates the wound.
Signs your foot or ankle injury is serious
You have bleeding that won’t stop.
Often a pinhole wound over an injury is present. If blood continues to drain from that small wound, it suggests a fracture where the end of the bone poked through the skin initially. Even though the bone doesn’t continue to stick out, it could still represent an open fracture. For reasons listed above, the presence of this sign warrants evaluation in an emergency room.
You have signs of a nerve injury.
The presence numbness, tingling or weakness suggests the possibility of a nerve injury. Some numbness or tingling can be present with many injuries, so it doesn’t always represent nerve damage. Complete lack of sensation or inability to move the body part in a certain direction could be significant.
Your pain is unbearable.
Pain is one of the main reasons an injured person goes to an emergency room after an orthopedic injury. Significant pain that is not getting better with anti-inflammatory medications, ice, or other remedies might signify a serious injury, like a fracture.
This article is not meant to offer specific medical advice for any musculoskeletal injury. Also, this list is by no means comprehensive. While the presence of signs and symptoms listed above are important, any acute orthopedic injury might justify going to a hospital emergency department. The emergency medicine physician can obtain x-rays, splint the extremity, administer pain medications, and arrange consultation with an orthopedic surgeon, if needed.
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