To Your Health

Don’t make a bad break worse

Dr. Roger Hicks


 With summer here and the great outdoors calling, people are out hiking trails, going to the river, and riding their bikes, skateboards, wakeboards and horses. That’s great for the mind and body, but occasional sprains, strains, bruises or breaks can sometimes come with the territory.


Fortunately, there are several precautions you can take to help to prevent such injuries. Think of your outdoor activity as a workout. Stretching is a good idea before any physical activity because it gives your body a little warm-up, loosens your muscles and helps prevent strains and sprains.


If you have been inactive, start slowly. And make sure you have the proper footwear for whatever you’re doing. Whether venturing out on a simple walk or a more vigorous hike, having shoes that offer the right combination of support and protection is essential.


Should you find yourself suffering from a sprain, strain, or possible break, ice and elevation if you can – that will help prevent swelling and reduce the pain. You should elevate the injured body part, ideally above your heart, as often as possible. And apply cold for 15-20 minutes 4-5 times a day. An effective way to do this is by putting a plastic bag filled with ice on injury. Crushed ice is best because it conforms to body parts and always put a washcloth or towel between the ice and your skin.


If the symptoms don’t improve, consider a trip to an urgent care center. It can be difficult to tell a sprain or strain from a break (broken is synonymous with fractured when it comes to bones, by the way) without an x-ray, sometimes even for a doctor. 


A good  guideline is if you cannot bear weight enough to take 4 steps, you need an x-ray. Limping is OK in this scenario, hopping is not. 


Upper extremity injuries do not have simple rules like that. But if there is any deformity, an x-ray is needed. If there is tenderness of a bone, as opposed to muscle or other soft tissue, or if there is loss of normal function, an x-ray is needed. And keep in mind the risk of a fracture is increased in those under 12 and over 55.


Is there a risk if you wait? Yes. The main risks of waiting a day or two if there is a fracture are that bone fragments that were properly aligned may become displaced and further injury could occur. A broken bone will not start to heal in one or two days, so there is no risk of having to re-break it then, but it will after a week or two.


Accredited and certified urgent care facilities like Yubadocs are required to have x-ray equipment on-site, which is necessary to make accurate diagnoses. They must also have staff experienced in managing sprains, strains and simple fractures, including applying splints and casts. Treatment varies depending on the nature and severity of the injury, of course, as some injuries can be managed from start to finish at the urgent care center, while others require referral to a specialist for possible surgery.


Summer is here, so go outside and enjoy the beauty of Nevada County. I encourage you to take a break — a safe and healthy one. But if you, a friend or family member has an injury that needs attention, most urgent care facilities are open 7 days a week.


A director of the Urgent Care Association of America from 2011 to 2017, Dr. Roger Hicks served as the Association’s treasurer and then secretary. He is a founder and current board member of the Urgent Care Assurance Company, a malpractice company specializing in urgent care. He is the founding President of the California Urgent Care Association. He is also the founding president of the South Yuba River Citizens League and served on SYRCL’s Board of Directors for 30 years