Sports Injuries: When to Seek Medical Help

October 5, 2015| Health and Wellbeing /

Staying active through sport and exercise is great, but when an injury happens, it is important to know when to seek help. Epworth’s head of Emergency, Dr Ron Sultana, takes us through to most common sports injuries and when to seek professional assistance.


Ron says the main sports that attract injuries are Australian Rules football, recreational cycling, netball, cricket and soccer.

“Footy is a high energy, high contact sport so we do see more significant injuries from footy than other sports,” Ron says.

The most common injuries are fractures to joints, arms and legs, hands and feet, and when they strike, you could use the RICE approach, being Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Ron says it can be a misconception that bone breaks are sensitive to ice, that is that alleviation of pain with ice indicates a soft tissue injury is present and not a broken bone.

“Certainly it will hurt if you apply ice to breaks in arms and legs, however, there are many breaks in the feet and hands where the pain might not be that bad when ice is applied, but the bone is broken.” Often the extent of the pain experienced is related to the size of the affected bone.

If you can’t put pressure on it, or if you can’t walk or move the limb, you really need to seek medical attention.
— Dr Ron Sultana, Head of Emergency, Epworth HealthCare

If you are at a sporting event and you have access to a splint, it will definitely help with arm injuries.

“Movement causes pain, so immobilising the arm will help. Use any makeshift splint for the forearm, and use a compression bandage and sling where possible. For leg injuries, crutches are also really useful,” he says.

For intense pain, some analgesia in the form of paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory can be helpful. “A little bit of water and some paracetamol or anti-inflammatory will generally not be too much of an issue even if surgery is required,” he says.

When an injury is severe, first aid people should not attempt to relocate any shoulders or fingers that have been dislocated.

“You can often do more damage and risk further injury, so leave this up to a medical professional.”

For injuries to the core or head, Ron says you should pay close attention to and seek medical advice as quickly as possible.

“For a neck trauma or any fall where the neck is involved, you should leave the injured person lying down and call an ambulance for assessment. This is particularly true when there is neck pain or any altered sensation to the limbs. The ambulance officers or appropriately trained personnel should be the only ones to move people in these instances.”

Knocks to the head should be closely observed in the hours following the trauma. “We are looking for any loss of consciousness, confusion, drowsiness, vomiting or headaches here. If any of these occur in the hours after a concussion, call an ambulance or get to the hospital straight away.”

Ron says it is important to closely observe any pain in the chest or stomach. Injuries that can be sustained include spleen trauma and rib fractures leading to collapsed lungs. “If there is any pain on breathing, vomiting or the injured person is pale and dizzy, seek medical help. They may have some internal bleeding that can’t be seen.”

Epworth Richmond’s emergency department has a fast-track clinic for bone breaks that require immediate attention and can be dealt with reasonably quickly.

“We are able to get x-rays and then deal with these fractures really quickly, and it is a great service for straight-forward cases,” Ron says.

For compound fractures, head injuries or injuries to the stomach or chest, the regular Emergency section is where patients will be treated.

“We also have the Epworth Sports Clinic on site, so we tend to see a fair number of sports injuries here in the emergency department,” Ron says.

The most important thing to remember in sports injuries is if in doubt, seek medical help.


When to call an ambulance for sports injuries

  • Head Injury – involving loss of consciousness, confusion, drowsiness, vomiting, or headache
  • Neck injuries – particularly neck pain, altered sensation to limbs, loss of consciousness
  • Suspected breaks – where moving the person is difficult or impossible due to pain
  • Compound breaks – where bone is perforating the skin
  • Acute pain where injured person unable to be transported by car
  • Chest or stomach injuries where patient is pale, short of breath or in significant pain

Epworth Richmond’s emergency department operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
An upfront fee applies to all emergency patients.

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