Most falls result in minor bumps, bruises and sprains and do not require emergency medical care. Most painful areas injured in a fall can benefit from immediate icing, which minimizes swelling. Ice packs wrapped in a towel are applied during the first 24 hours for 15 to 20 minutes on, then 40 to 60 minutes off. Lightly wrapping a minor sprain with elastic bandage may also ease discomfort, as the wrap minimizes unplanned movements. Care should be taken not to wrap too tightly. Numbness or tingling below the level of a wrap means the bandage should be replaced more loosely.
When to call a doctor
- Possible fractures or severe sprains. Extreme swelling, discoloration, severe or persistent pain, or difficulty walking (for example, after a fall that twists your ankle or injures your hip) can be signs of serious injury. If one or more of these signs occur after a fall, seek medical care so that you can stabilize the injured area. If a limb is deformed or deforms with movement, call for emergency help so that a splint can be applied before the injured person is moved.
- Injuries in children. If a child is not walking normally, avoids using the injured area or pulls away sharply when the area is touched, a doctor should check the injury.
- Head and neck injuries. If the neck has been injured or if the injured person is not conscious, call 911 for emergency help so that a splint can be applied before the injured person is moved. Do not attempt to reposition the neck if it does not appear straight. Head injuries that cause confusion or loss of consciousness or that cause sleepiness, dizziness, balance problems, nausea or vomiting need immediate attention by a doctor, even if the injured person appears to recover spontaneously. Confusion or loss of consciousness is the first symptom of a concussion. During the first two weeks that follow a concussion, it is particularly important to protect yourself from repeat head injury. The American Academy of Neurology recommends that athletes avoid play for at least one week beyond the time that all concussion symptoms have resolved, including not only obvious symptoms of dizziness or nausea but also subtle symptoms of headache, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, drowsiness, sensitivity to light or noise, blurred vision, memory difficulty, and difficulty concentrating.