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

Doing yardwork or housework. Walking on ice. Walking on stairs. Enjoying a favorite sport. Hanging holiday lights. Breathing.

These are just a few of the ways adults 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 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)

Head injuries.

Head injuries are a common complaint in the ER and require a quick evaluation and a CT scan to rule out a surgical emergency such as bleeding on the brain.

Signs of a serious head injury or concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Trouble walking or problems with balance

Someone experiencing these symptoms following a head injury should receive immediate medical treatment, whether they occur directly following the injury or hours or days later.

If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.