Breaks & Aches: When Should I Go to the ER?

Doing yard work or housework. Jumping on a trampoline. Walking on ice. Climbing monkey bars. Walking on stairs. Playing sports or enjoying a favorite physical activity. Hanging holiday lights. Breathing.

These are just a few of the ways adults and kids can become injured. Sometimes we aren’t even sure what we did, we just know it hurts. When that happens, we sometimes need help deciding if we should tough it out or seek treatment. So here’s your cheat sheet.

Fractures, breaks, bumps, bruises, contusions, sprains and strains.

The extent of injuries from falls, sports, chores or just plain living are often hard to diagnose without an X-ray and a medical exam. Sometimes, you’ll be able to tell that a bone is obviously fractured, but most often you’ll need a medical professional for a correct diagnosis. Soft tissue injuries can pose problems, too, if left untreated.

Injuries that present with any of the following symptoms should be treated right away. If your doctor recommends casting, be sure to ask for a waterproof cast so you can shower, bathe and swim comfortably.

Seek immediate treatment if you or your child are injured and:

  • Have intense pain or pain that lasts longer than a few days after a fall or injury
  • Have swelling, bruising or bleeding
  • Have numbness and tingling
  • Are not using or are favoring an arm or leg
  • Are unable to walk or are walking crooked

To help manage pain and reduce swelling before and on the way to the ER or doctor, follow these steps.

  • Stabilize the injury as best you can, with pillows, elastic bandages and other items that protect the injury and make the injured person more comfortable
  • Elevate the injured part, if possible, to reduce swelling
  • Apply protected ice (cover ice packs with a soft cloth to prevent frostbite)

Learn more about broken bones in children.

Learn more about preventing falls and orthopedic injuries.

Strong at 65 and Beyond: How to Prevent Senior Falls

Bikes, Trikes, Scooters and Skates: How to Stay Out of the ER

Ladder Safety From the Top Down

How to Prevent and Treat Kids’ Sports Injuries

How to Keep Cheerleaders Safe from Falls and Injuries

Holiday Ladder Safety

How to Stay Safe on a Personal Recreational Vehicle

Avoid Icy Injuries and Know How to Safely Fall

How to Prevent Spring Injuries from Sidelining Your Family

How to Prevent Backpacks from Injuring Little Backs

If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.