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Childhood injuries: When to seek medical care

two kids wearing aviator goggles laying on their stomachs on skateboards riding down a hill
Childhood injuries: When to seek medical care

What child doesn’t love summer? It’s a season filled with outdoor fun, but it’s also a season for more bumps and bruises. Knowing when to seek medical care for kids can be challenging, especially if there is no obvious trauma.

Gundersen physical therapist and athletic trainer Sadie Zebell, DPT, PT, shares when it is serious enough to be seen and when it is okay to "wait and see" with at-home treatment recommendations.

When to seek medical help

If your child is injured and/or experiences any of the following signs and symptoms of an orthopedic injury, you should seek medical help:

  • Cannot walk normally or put weight on the body part
  • Limping due to pain that does not improve within a day
  • Any deformity in a body part
  • Cannot move a joint/body part
  • Noticeable swelling around the injured area
  • Loss of sensation
  • Inability to stop bleeding with compression and bandage
  • Labored or difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness or confusion
  • Signs of shock, including restlessness, anxiety, nausea and paleness
  • Cannot eat or keep fluids down
  • Fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Head injury with any of these symptoms

What to try at home

Sadie recommends starting with RICE if your child is injured and has mild swelling.

Rest – Take time away from physical activity to rest and reset.

Ice – Apply ice with an ice pack or bag of ice. Be sure to put a thin layer of material between the skin and ice to prevent frost bite. A sheet/pillowcase or paper towel works well.

Compression – Apply compression with an elastic bandage. Apply more compression in the area furthest from the heart and less compression as you wrap toward the center of the body. Avoid too much compression that leads to loss of feeling or circulation to the body part.

Elevation – If possible, place the body part above the heart.

If there is no improvement in symptoms after rest and home treatment for one to two days, that’s another sign to seek medical attention.

As a mother of three young children who works in sports medicine, even Sadie finds it difficult to balance her logical knowledge and normal "mom worry."

"Remember, you likely know your child better than anyone else, so use your best judgement on when to seek medical attention. It is never a bad decision to make an appointment if you have concerns," she assures.

The Gundersen Telephone Nurse Advisors and athletic trainers at area schools are wonderful resources if you have questions.

Make your child’s well visit today

Finally, don’t delay your child’s well visit with their primary care provider where they can sign off on sports physicals. Having a yearly wellness exam can help prevent injuries and decrease the time of injury if something is picked up early. The best time to schedule is early summer before school is upon us again. To make an appointment, call your child’s primary care provider or the Gundersen clinic nearest you.

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