Orthopaedic Emergencies: What to Expect
The emergency room (ER) can be scary. But knowing what to expect in an orthopaedic emergency can help minimize anxiety. At Cedars-Sinai, we want you to be as informed and prepared as possible. Get answers to frequently asked questions about orthopaedic emergencies.
What Is an Orthopaedic Emergency?
An orthopaedic emergency is a medical emergency involving your musculoskeletal system. This complex body system is what helps you move. It includes your bones, joints and muscles.
People often injure their musculoskeletal system during accidents, falls or while playing sports. If you need immediate medical care, call 911, or go to your nearest ER or urgent care clinic.
Orthopaedic injuries include:
- Sprains and strains
- Broken bones (fractures)
- Joint infections
Should I Go to Urgent Care or an ER?
It can be difficult to determine the best place to go when you need immediate care. Urgent care centers are often staffed by doctors and nurses trained to handle non-life-threatening emergencies. But if your condition is serious or life-threatening, the ER is the best place to go.
The Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai is a Level 1 trauma center. Level 1 is the highest trauma care designation possible. We have the resources, specialists and technology to handle all traumatic injuries—no matter how complex.
Is a Broken Bone an Emergency?
A broken bone is an orthopaedic emergency. It needs immediate medical attention so doctors can immobilize and repair it. Failure to get proper medical care could lead to:
- Increased pain and stiffness
- Lack of function
Broken Bone Symptoms
The signs of a broken bone include:
- Sudden pain
- Difficulty moving and using the affected area
- A deformity you can see
- An area that is warm, bruised or red
Our Approach to Orthopaedic Emergencies
When you first come to our ER, the following steps will be taken:
- Assessment with a nurse: A member of our emergency and trauma-trained nursing staff will see you to assess your condition.
- Assessment with an emergency doctor: A board-certified emergency doctor will evaluate you further and ask the on-call orthopaedic doctor to see you.
- Meet with an orthopaedic doctor and receive care for immediate needs: An orthopaedic doctor will discuss your needs with the emergency doctor you have seen. The orthopaedic doctor will also meet with you and address any immediate care needs you have. This doctor will provide care in consultation with two other on-call orthopaedic experts.
- Next steps: If the doctor has handled all your medical needs in the ER, you may arrange for any follow-up care and/or leave the hospital. If you need surgery, we will admit you to the hospital.
If you need surgery to repair your injury, the following steps will be taken:
- Meet with your surgeon: Before your procedure, you will meet with one of our fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeons. Fellowship training is the highest level of orthopaedic training. Your surgeon will discuss the surgery and what to expect as well as address your questions or concerns.
- Pre-surgical testing: We perform any necessary imaging or testing before the procedure.
- Schedule surgery: We will schedule your surgery quickly. Patients often have their procedure the same day as their arrival or within a day and a half.
- Follow-up care: After your procedure, you will get any instructions or prescriptions you need. You'll also follow up with your surgeon about two weeks after your treatment.
In addition to your orthopaedic surgeon, other specialists and nurses, you may receive care from:
- Caseworkers: These healthcare professionals provide help with any social or logistical concerns.
- Hospitalists: These doctors give you personalized attention and medical care during your hospitalization. Learn more about our hospitalist services.
- Physical therapists: Our licensed therapists help you return to your previous activities. Find out about physical therapy and rehabilitation.