Being the brilliant athlete that I am, I completely trashed my knee playing softball yesterday. Got a base hit, ran, and right at first I fell for exactly zero reason. Impact. Slide. Roll. My knee is not a pretty sight right now.
Which made me realize that, on the off chance you haven’t learned by now, proper first aid and handling of injuries is a vital emerging adult skill.
I’m going to organize this by symptoms, but it’s really important to note that a lot of these can go hand-in-hand, even if you wouldn’t expect them to. (For example, after I fell yesterday, I was pretty queasy for a few minutes and had to address that well as my banged-up knee.) Your body is a system made up of systems, and everything is connected.
Also, though none of these descriptions will be graphic, if you’re especially sensitive to this kind of stuff, might be best to stop reading here. Last disclaimer (I promise): I’m obviously not an expert in all this, but I am remarkably injury-prone, so I do speak from ample experience.
- Take a minute to assess for all the other symptoms below. If any are present, attend to those first.
- Gently check your range of motion, particularly if you bruised a joint. I spent a lot of last night carefully stretching and bending my knee to ensure it didn’t end up too stiff and to encourage blood flow to the area (it might make the bruise look worse, but will help it heal better). Just be sure to stop when it hurts — you don’t want to make it worse.
- Reduce the swelling. The top three tips for this are always ice it, elevate it, and take some ibuprofen.
- IF YOU HIT YOUR HEAD, be very, very careful. Concussions are serious and can’t always be spotted immediately. If you are having trouble with balance for more than a minute or two, get sick, or are having trouble remembering/forming sentences, go see a doctor. Have a friend drive you or call a ride, and do not go to sleep. This is not an option, this is not a time to prove that you’re tough. Your brain is really delicate, and you’ve only got one.
- If you don’t show any signs of a concussion, follow the steps below for nausea and lightheadedness and have a friend keep an eye on you for at least an hour or two. If any of those signs show up, see above. If not, take it easy the next couple days anyway.
Cuts and scrapes:
- Assess the bleeding. If it’s just a tiny bit, pat it and move on to the other steps. If it’s bleeding quite a bit, apply pressure and change the cloth/bandage when it gets soaked.
- Clean it. This is so important. Remember when people used to die all the time from simple infections? Yeah, me neither — because we realized they were easy to avoid. Wash the wound with water (tepid or warm is best, just nothing too hot or too cold) and if it’s got much dirt or debris in it, be sure to gently clean that out with a cloth or tweezers.
- Protect it. Add some Neosporin or your antibiotic ointment of choice to avoid anything funky happening to it down the road.
- Cover it. Find the appropriate bandage for the size of the injury, or even improvise one if necessary (facial tissue, or even toilet paper, and Scotch tape will always do in a pinch).
- Bonus “Should I change my bandage?” cheat sheet:
- If it’s soaked (with water or anything else) → Yes
- If it’s otherwise super dirty or gross → Yes
- If it was a deep cut → Change every 24ish hours for the first few days, then at your discretion.
- If it was a teeny tiny cut → You can remove after 24 hours.
- If it’s scabbed over, or been more than a week → You’re probably safe to remove it and go about your business.
- Of course, every time you do change it, clean it again and add some antibiotic ointment.
- Bonus “Should I change my bandage?” cheat sheet:
Upset stomach and/or lightheadedness:
- Sit down. You’re body’s clearly processing quite a bit, and making it stand or walk (or heaven forbid, run) will only make this worse very, very quickly.
- Tell someone. Particularly if you’re lightheaded or lightheaded and feeling sick, get someone to keep an eye on you and provide any help you need.
- Sip water slowly. Notice I said slowly. If you guzzle it, it will likely have the opposite effect.
- Go to the bathroom. I know it’s weird, but it helps. Just trust me on this one.
- Close your eyes. Having your eyes open opens you up to a lot of extra stimuli that your body doesn’t need right this second.
- Lay your head back if you can. It’s a little odd, but helps the same way closing your eyes does.
- Splash some cool or cold water. This is especially helpful for your face, neck, hands, and wrists (ankles too if possible). Those are areas where bodies really like to release heat, and cool water touching your skin, then evaporating, will help you feel better while your body deals with what it’s got going on.
Sprains and “I can’t tell if it’s broken”:
- First, take it easy. Very gently, very carefully, explore your range of motion and see if it gets better over 15ish minutes (more if you feel comfortable).
- If it doesn’t get better or gets worse, go see a doctor. No joking, no delays. I fractured my wrist in 8th grade and made the injury worse by not going to the doctor for 5 days because I thought it was only a sprain. Not smart. Get that ish checked out.
- If it does get better decently quickly, still be gentle. You can wrap it or get a brace/support for it, and be sure to rest it often and use it in small increments to avoid stiffness.
- Either way, ice it, elevate it, take some ibuprofen to help the swelling, and compress the area (the brace or support mentioned above).
Pulled or otherwise tweaked muscles:
- Rest it. Muscle stuff is weird because it mostly has to fix itself — your job is just to give it the time and space to do that.
- Ice, elevate, and ibuprofen. Just like a bruise or sprain.
- A heating pack or some IcyHot can work wonders, as the heat gets the muscle to relax and loosen. (Same thing with soaking it in water.)
- Massage it gently. You can gently rub with the muscle direction (might need to Google that) or in small, circular motions, but if you don’t know what you’re doing in this area, set up an appointment at a massage place that specializes in physical therapy and muscle problems.
- Stretch it out. As always, when stretching or exploring range of motion with an injury, stop when it hurts. Don’t be mean to your body. But gentle stretching and using a muscle can help it recover when mixed with the other aids above.
For all of these, be sure to give your body plenty of time to rest. Our bodies are weirdly, impressively good at healing, but they need time and rest to do it.
If you are ever in doubt about the extent of an injury, please see a medical professional. Note that urgent care is usually less expensive (and occasionally faster) than the emergency room. Many hospitals and medical providers also have a 24-hour nurse hotline for advice on non-emergency injuries or questions.
If the cost is really prohibitive, there may be free or cost-reduced options in your area. Take some time to look them up before you really need them. Even if you aren’t insured, most places will let you pay cash for treatment and an emergency room will not deny you care.
Slightly different request for the end of this post — if you have any links for the resources I mentioned in the last two paragraphs above that aren’t region-specific (so national or international), I’d love to add them in! Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!
(Photo is a free stock photo because y’all don’t want to see my knee.)