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When is a fall serious enough to seek medical attention?

By: Devin Wurman, DPT

Whether you are young or old, a fall outside, or even in your own home can be serious. You might assume that medical professionals are busy assessing injuries from falls at certain times of the year such as winter when there is snow and/or ice on the ground. This is true, however, it is also very common for older individuals to fall in their own homes at anytime of the year. How do you know if your injury warrants medical attention, or if it something you can handle on your own?

First, let’s take a look at the non-serious injuries. If you should fall, it is common to experience some amount of pain on the part of the body you fell on. You may see some obvious swelling and/or bruising. If the pain and swelling does not subside within a couple of days using ice and anti-inflammatories, then you should see a doctor.  In addition, if you are unable to place weight through an injured limb, a physical therapist or another doctor may have you get an x-ray to assess if a bone was broken. If the pain does improve, but not completely, then seek the advice of a physical therapist. A physical therapist will examine the injury and provide you with the proper treatment regimen to reduce any swelling, strengthen the area and surrounding structures and get you back to your normal activities without pain. Never take the route of “just dealing” with it.  If a minor issue is left unresolved, it could lead to a more serious issue later!

Now, what about the more immediate serious issues? If you fall and hit your head, the symptoms may not show up right away. You should have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours in case you begin to experience symptoms of a head injury. Here is a list of some common symptoms that you may have:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in vision
  • Headache

If these symptoms get worse or if you experience the following, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Memory issues
  • Visual changes
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Trouble understanding someone talking to you
  • Loss of sensation on half of your body

When we see patients who have fallen, understandably, they are usually very fearful of falling again. Seeking the help of a physical therapist can help you regain your confidence, improve your balance, strengthen your muscles, and therefore help PREVENT you from having another fall. A physical therapist can also educate you on how to use a device such as a cane and/or walker, as well give you guidance on what obstacles you may have in your home that can make you susceptible to another fall. If you are an active individual who wants to get back to a specific activity or sport, a physical therapist can give you an individualized plan on how to return to your prior level of function safely.  Take falls seriously! Call LSTC TODAY at 703-450-4300 and CLICK HERE for more on how physical therapy can help you. 

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