What is an orthopedic emergency?
When you think “medical emergency,” the blare of an ambulance and the bustle of an emergency room may come to mind. But not all emergencies come with the fanfare of a major accident and a dramatic trip to the hospital. Orthopedic emergencies are conditions that should be treated by a doctor on the same day that the injury occurs, yet they can develop with little to no trauma and happen within the comfort of your own home.
Most common types of orthopedic emergencies
- Open fracture
An open fracture occurs when the bone you break protrudes through your skin. The trauma may not be permanent, and the bone may recede back into the wound, but it’s important to medical assistance immediately. Open fractures can put you at serious risk of a contracting a deep bone infection.
- Cauda Equina Syndrome
Although rare, cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a neurovascular condition that causes extreme nerve pressure and swelling at the end of your spinal cord. Symptoms can vary from impaired bladder and bowel function and control to difficulty walking. For some people, these symptoms develop suddenly. For others, they only gradually worsen. If you have CES or think you might, seek medical help right away. If left untreated, CES can lead to significant nerve damage and even paralysis.
- Hip dislocation
When you dislocate your hip, the femoral head, or tip of your leg bone, is pushed out of the socket, either forward or backward. Posterior dislocation is most common, occurring in 90 percent of hip dislocation patients. Posterior dislocation forces your thighbone out of the hip joint socket in a backward direction, leaving your leg in a fixed position and your knee and foot rotated toward the middle of your body. Anterior dislocation occurs when your thighbone slips forward, causing your hip to bend slightly and your leg to rotate out and away from the center of your body. Dislocating your hip can also damage the ligaments, muscles, labrum, nerves and other soft tissues holding the affected bones in place.
- Septic joints
Septic joints, or septic arthritis, is usually caused by bacteria or fungus. The condition occurs when your joint becomes inflamed as a result of infection. While the condition can affect numerous joints, it usually affects one large joint in your body, like your knee or your hip. Septic arthritis is usually treated with a combination of powerful antibiotics, likely given intravenously, that help prevent the spread of the infection. In some cases, the joint may also be drained of all its lubricating synovial fluid.
If you have septic arthritis, it’s likely you’ll be admitted for a hospital stay during your treatment. However, once you’ve received your initial treatment, it’s usually acceptable to continue your treatment on an outpatient basis with the help of a home health nursing service. It usually takes about four to six weeks of treatment with antibiotics to completely eradicate the infection from your joint.
Possible signs of an orthopedic emergency
If you’re experiencing any of the below symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to pay a visit to your doctor. These symptoms can accompany an orthopedic emergency, and it’s best to consult with a medical expert who can identify what your body is experiencing.
- Shortness of breath, chest pain and cough within one to three weeks of undergoing joint (knee, hip, etc.) replacement surgery. These symptoms could indicate a blood clot to the lungs.
- Calf pain and swelling a few days or weeks after injury or surgery on your leg. This could be the result of a blood clot that has formed in the deep veins of your leg. This clot could become an embolus to your lungs.
- Quick onset of a painful swollen joint, followed by fever and chills. This could indicate a joint infection.
- Pain, swelling and numbness in your extremities if you have been outfitted with a solid cast following an injury. These could be symptoms of compartment syndrome.
- Acute, severe back pain usually accompanied by weakness in the legs and the inability to empty your bladder after lumbar spine surgery or a spinal epidural injection. This could be caused by spinal cord bleeding.
- A child with a fracture (usually the elbow) who has been treated but is still uncomfortable and fussy despite having been medicated. This could be because of dangerous swelling at the fracture site.
- If you have a surgical wound that begins draining spontaneously.
Learn more about treating your orthopedic emergency
If you think you might have experienced one of the above conditions and would like to learn more about possible treatment options, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today by submitting an online form or calling one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.