When Is an Orthopedic Injury an Emergency?
Orthopedic physicians deal with injuries to the bones and their related structures. Orthopedic treatments and procedures cover fractures, torn ligaments and tendons, strained muscles, and similar injuries. They also deal with acquired and congenital skeletal deformities and degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis.
With new knowledge and technology in orthopedic medicine, older procedures have been replaced by bone grafts, joint replacements, prostheses, and special footwear. Orthopedic treatment frequently combines rehabilitation with traditional medicine and surgery.
When Does an Orthopedic Issue Become Urgent?
Orthopedic emergencies are conditions that should be seen by a physician the same day the injury occurs, to help prevent harm and long-lasting negative impact to the patient. Major trauma with complex fractures, deep and/or wide cuts, and loss of consciousness definitely demand immediate care at the hospital emergency room (ER).
Other orthopedic emergency conditions can develop slowly, with little or no apparent trauma. They often occur at home with no obvious injury. It can be difficult to judge whether they qualify as emergencies and need immediate attention, or whether such attention can be deferred, or whether a physician should at least be consulted about the condition.
So if you do have an emergency orthopedic issue, where is the best place to get the care you need? Knowing when and where to go can save you future problems and significant time and money.
Common Emergency Orthopedic Conditions
There are many serious and painful orthopedic conditions. When these occur or are discovered, an immediate call to the orthopedic physician is needed.
The most common orthopedic injuries – which usually occur in the aftermath of surgery or an accident – that require urgent and emergency attention are:
Severe back pain along with weakness in the legs and difficulty in urinating, especially after lumbar spine surgery or epidural spinal injection, could be caused by bleeding in the area around the spinal cord.
Severe pain and swelling in a joint, accompanied by fever and chills, could be due to a joint infection.
Calf pain and swelling shortly after being injured or having surgery in the legs could indicate a blood clot deep in the veins. This can become a life-threatening embolism.
Dislocations are joint injuries that force the bones out of their normal position.
Falls or twists in a post-operative limb, along with significant pain, could mean a positional change in the setting of the fracture, another new fracture, or a dislocation of the new joint.
Increasing pain, swelling, and numb fingers or toes in a patient with a solid cast could indicate cast-compression syndrome.
Neurovascular injury in an injured extremity can compromise neurovascular function. Signs of this type of injury can be pain, numbness, or tingling. Delays in treating the condition can affect nerve function and blood flow to the limb. This can result in the need for amputation of the extremity, or even death.
Exposed fractures or joints, such as open injuries to the knee, sprained ankle, or other broken bones, are severe health concerns requiring immediate attention.
Osteoporosis accompanied by pain in the thigh or groin, and difficulty walking, could mean an osteoporotic fracture of the hip due to insufficient bone matter.
Septic joints can occur when a bacterial infection invades a joint – in the knee, hip, shoulder, or spine. Any joint is vulnerable to infection, so never hesitate to have it evaluated by a physician.
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and cough manifesting a few weeks after total hip, knee, or shoulder replacement, or any surgery for fractures, could indicate a blood clot to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
Spontaneous draining of body fluid oozing out of a wound in a post-operative patient requires treatment by a physician.
Orthopedic Injuries that Are Treatable at Urgent Care Centers
Most orthopedic injuries can be safely treated at an urgent care center. While life-threatening conditions require true emergency-room treatment, orthopedic urgent care is the better option for treatment of conditions that are not life-threatening, as these specialized facilities are less crowded and pressured.
Orthopedic urgent care centers can address injuries and problems that include:
- Cast or splint issues
- Cuts and lacerations
- Ligament tears
- Painful, swollen joints
- Pediatric injuries
- Sports injuries
- Sprains, strains, and discolorations
Injuries that Should Be Treated at Hospital Emergency Rooms
Any injury or condition that may be life-threatening should always be directed to a hospital emergency department for expert care and management. The emergency room is open 24 hours a day, offers top-of-the-line resources, and is the best choice for severe orthopedic injuries if:
- Arm or leg is severely fractured and/or out of alignment
- Bone is fractured and exposed through the skin
- Significant blood loss has occurred
- Other injuries from falls or accidents are present
Pediatric Emergency Care
For severely injured children, the emergency room offers the most appropriate environment for handling their injuries immediately. Emergency rooms also feature the widest range of services and access to medical specialists.
Cases that require pediatric care at a hospital emergency room include:
- A child with a fractured bone remains in pain and is irritable, despite treatment and medication. This could indicate dangerous swelling at the site of the fracture.
- A child who has no obvious symptoms of an injury but is crying, restless, feverish, and unable to walk. This could indicate a serious hip joint infection.
- Children with large, deep cuts or wounds.
- A child who has positional deformities of the limbs.
Family Orthopedic Care in Colorado Springs
The Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence (CCOE) offers expertise spanning the entire spectrum of orthopedic specialties. We can diagnose and treat your orthopedic issues with state-of-the-art treatment options and the personalized care and attention you deserve.
Contact us today and make an appointment with one of our orthopedic doctors for award-winning orthopedic and sports medicine treatment. Fill out our online appointment request form, or call (719) 623-1050 today. We look forward to helping you live a more pain-free and active lifestyle.