Beneath The Bruises: How To Tell If Your Physical Injury Requires Urgent Care

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Accidents happen. You fall down, play sports, crash your bike, or even just slip on an icy sidewalk. If you're suddenly left with a shooting, intense pain in your hand, arm, leg or ankle, it can be hard to know what is wrong without consulting a physician. Does it require a cold pack or a cast? If a trip to urgent care is not possible immediately, or if you want to make sure the injury is serious before paying for services, you can use the following care guide to assess your injury until you can get a second opinion. 

Is It A Sprain?

Sprains are the most common injuries, and they can vary in seriousness. A small sprain may have:

Small sprain usually just need some ice and a tensor bandage. You'll have to take it easy as it heals. Some sprains, however, can be so severe that you might mistake them for a break or muscles tear. These types of sprains affect the ligaments that hold bones in place. After severely spraining an ankle or a wrist (the two most commonly affected areas), you can expect to see the following symptoms:

When you suspect a severe sprain, it's important to see a doctor. You may not need emergent care, but you want to check with a doctor to get advise on keeping the affected area stable so that is heals completely. If an ankle, for example, is not treated correctly, surgery might be needed to get your foot completely back to normal. They will also be able to give you advise on healing time, as not all sprains are created equally.

Or Is A Break?

Sometimes, it's pretty easy to tell if you've broken an arm or leg. Common, easy-to-spot symptoms include:

In areas with complex bone structure and many small ligaments, such as the foot or the hand, broken bones are more difficult to diagnose. Many people may mistakenly think that have simply sprained an ankle, when in reality, they have actually broken a tibia or metatarsal bone. Some signs that your foot or hand might be broken include:

Also, another indication of a fracture is residual pain. Often, if you keep a sprain stable, you might forget that it even hurts you at all--until you move. Bone pain is different. A broken bone causes lasting pain, even if you keep the area stable. If you experience greater pain during movement, it takes that pain a long time to go away.

Finally, bones that meet at joints can break right at the tip, often leaving no swelling in their wake. The lack of swelling and the pain point toward a fracture-- sometimes so small that it can't be seen on an x-ray. If the bone is long, however, the entire limb might be affected. For example, a fracture close to the elbow would result in the entire forearm feeling sore. 

Broken bones should be treated by a doctor sooner rather than later. You family doctor may not have the examining tools to diagnose the break, so you can feel confident in receiving the right treatment at an urgent care facility,