How to Determine If You Have an Orthopedic Emergency

by: Sport Ortho Urgent Care

At times, some orthopedic injuries can be observed for a few days to see if their symptoms will subside on their own. However, others will require immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, many orthopedic emergencies are serious and can lead to more damage if left untreated for too long.

When to Visit an Orthopedic Urgent Care

Treatment of fractures and other orthopedic emergencies will require prompt care. In the following scenarios, you can skip the hospital trip and get help from an urgent care facility:

Dislocations

 When the ends of the bones are forced out of position due to direct force, dislocations can occur. Apart from the bone being visibly out of place, dislocations can be accompanied by pain and swelling. Dislocations can also affect the following joints:

  • Ankle
  • Knee
  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Finger
  • Hip

 It is important to remember that this kind of injury will not always warrant a trip to the emergency room. However, it is still considered an emergency. That said, it is recommended that you visit an orthopedic care clinic as soon as possible.

Torn Ligaments

When the joint is forced out of its normal position, damage to the ligaments that support the joint's structure can occur. If you notice the following symptoms, it is likely that you have a torn ligament and should visit an orthopedic care facility as soon as possible:

  • A feeling of tearing at the time of the injury
  • Hearing an audible pop during the injury
  • Instability of the joint
  • Difficulty moving the affected joint
  • Muscle spasms around the affected area

Understandably, life-threatening conditions warrant emergency care treatment. However, orthopedic urgent care is considered a better option for conditions that are not life-threatening as the specialized facilities are less congested.

 Typically, the following orthopedic injuries and concerns can be addressed at orthopedic care centers:

  • Splint or cast issues
  • Lacerations
  • Cuts
  • Ligament tears
  • Fractures
  • Pediatric injuries
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Pediatric injuries
  • Dislocations

When to Seek Emergency Care

Orthopedic emergencies are injuries and conditions that require intervention the same day the injury occurs to ensure further harm and long-lasting impact. Wide or deep cuts, complex fractures, and loss of consciousness require prompt care at a hospital emergency room.

Life-threatening orthopedic injuries and conditions should always be directed to the emergency department for expert management and care. The emergency department has top-of-the-line equipment and can best address severe orthopedic injuries such as:

  • A severely fractured and out of alignment leg or arm
  • A fractured bone that's exposed through the skin
  • Significant blood loss
  • Other injuries from accidents or falls

Some of the most common orthopedic injuries occur as a result of an accident or surgery. The following are some of the most common orthopedic conditions that will require emergency attention:

  • Severe swelling and pain in the joint, accompanied by chills and fever, can be due to a joint infection.
  • Swelling, pain, and numbed toes or fingers in patients with a solid cast can indicate cast-compression syndrome.
  • Exposed joints or fractures like a sprained ankle, broken bones, or other open injuries will also require immediate medical intervention.
  • Septic joints develop when a bacterial infection invades a joint in the hips, spine, shoulder, or knee. Any joint can be prone to infection, so don't think twice about seeking medical help if you suspect you have a septic joint.
  • Calf swelling and pain following a surgery or injury in the legs can indicate a blood clot in the veins. This can result in a life-threatening embolism.
  • Neurovascular injury occurs when an injured extremity compromises the neurovascular function. Typical signs of a neurovascular injury include numbness, pain, and tingling. Delays in treating the condition can affect both the blood flow to the limb and nerve function. Severe cases can result in amputation and even death.

Emergency Care for Children 

For severely injured children, the emergency room is considered the most appropriate place to seek help. Pediatric orthopedic cases that require emergency care include:

  • A fractured bone that is severely painful despite medication and treatment. Cases like this can be attributed to a dangerous swelling at the fracture site.
  • There are no pronounced symptoms of an injury, but the child is restless, crying, feverish, and unable to walk. Similar cases can be indicative of a severe hip joint infection.
  • Children with deep and massive wounds or cuts.
  • The child has a positional deformity of the limb.

Final Thoughts

If you are unsure if an orthopedic condition requires immediate medical attention or otherwise, consider it best to check with your orthopedic specialist right away. It's the best thing you can do so you don't put your health, independence, and ability to function in jeopardy. 

About Dr. Kaelin

Dr. Charles R. Kaelin received his medical degree from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and completed his orthopaedic training at Orlando Regional Center in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Kaelin also received training in Sports Medicine at Alabama Sports Medicine with Dr. Lemak, specializing in sports medicine and workman's compensation injuries. He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) since 1990. He is a charter member of the International Cartilage Research Society, Founding member of the AAOS Education Enhancement Fund (AAOS) and past editorial board member for the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal.

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