Where to seek the right care for orthopedic injuries
If you or a loved one experiences an orthopedic injury, there are several options for getting care. Some injuries need immediate care at the emergency room or urgent care clinic, and other injuries can be treated by your primary care provider (PCP). Knowing which facilities are best for treating different orthopedic injuries can save you time and money.
What is an orthopedic injury?
Orthopedic care focuses on injuries and conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system — your bones, joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons. Orthopedic injuries are very common, but they vary in their level of severity. The following are some common injuries:
- Broken bones
- Overuse injuries, such as rotator cuff tears and tendinitis
- Sports injuries, such as ACL tears
- Sprains and strains
Unlike chronic orthopedic conditions, such as arthritis, which can develop due to wear and tear, orthopedic injuries usually occur from external trauma or from repeated use of a muscle or joint. For example, you may injure a bone or muscle if you fall or get into a car accident. You can get shin splints from increasing the frequency or intensity of your runs too quickly. Regardless of which type of injury you have, it's never a good idea to wait very long to receive treatment. The important thing is to choose where to get the care you need.
Choosing the right place for orthopedic care
Orthopedic injuries range from minor to life-threatening, so the type of care you need and where to receive it depends on the injury's severity. The following guide will help you determine where to seek care following orthopedic trauma.
The emergency room (ER) — The ER is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides care to patients needing immediate attention. As the name suggests, the ER is for emergencies, such as injuries and conditions where people may suffer serious disability or die unless treated quickly. The following are some situations in which orthopedic injuries may warrant a visit to the ER:
- Broken bones, especially if protruding from the skin (open fractures)
- Head injury involving confusion or loss of consciousness
- Neck or spine injury involving loss of sensation or motor skills
- Severe wound or heavy bleeding
Urgent care — Think of urgent care as the step between needing ER services and reaching out to your PCP. It's designed for situations where the injury is serious enough to justify immediate care but still not severe enough for emergency treatment. In other words, the problem isn't life-threatening or likely to cause disability. Some injuries and conditions treated at an urgent care center include:
- Back and joint pain
- Minor broken bones
- Minor cuts with moderate bleeding
- Sprains and strains
An urgent care clinic like Reid Health Ortho Walk-in NOW may be able to treat a minor muscle, tendon, or ligament tear, as well. However, total tears of any of these parts will likely require a visit to the ER. You don't have to schedule an appointment to receive urgent care, making it ideal if you need help but can't get in to see your PCP.
Primary care — If your injury isn't life-threatening and you can wait a little while for care, consider scheduling an appointment with your PCP. Your PCP already knows you and is familiar with your health history, so you'll get personalized care. Many PCP offices offer same-day or next-day appointments.
Consider time and cost
When deciding between urgent care, ER services, and primary care, evaluate the cost. On average, ER services cost much more than a PCP or urgent care visit. Some estimates claim ER services cost 10 times as much money as urgent or primary care.
Time is another factor. When patients go to the ER for care, those with the most severe injuries or life-threatening conditions receive care first. If your injury is more appropriate for urgent care, you're likely to receive services faster there than you would in the ER.
When to see an orthopedic specialist
Although not all orthopedic injuries call for immediate care, some situations require advanced care. For instance, if you break a bone or develop an overuse injury, you should schedule an appointment with a clinician specializing in orthopedics. These providers have the knowledge, experience, and techniques to inform you about treatment options and deliver long-term care.
For sports injuries, you may need to see a sports medicine clinician. These specialists rehabilitate athletes following injuries to restore lost function and ensure they can return to the sports they love. However, you don't have to be an athlete to visit a sports medicine provider. These professionals also treat non-athletes for pulled muscles, concussions, and other injuries active people can develop.
In addition to emergency care, patients in East Central Indiana and West Central Ohio can meet with orthopedic specialists at the Reid Health Comprehensive Bone & Joint Center and Reid Health Ortho Walk-in NOW. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive orthopedic care.