As spring segues into summer, area urgent care waiting rooms also see a change. Patients are less likely to be suffering from colds and flu and more likely to have sunburns, sprains, abrasions and other warm-weather afflictions.
As an outdoor enthusiast himself, Dr. Ian Tullberg understands those complaints. The family practice physician and former EMT oversees six UCHealth’s urgent care facilities in southern Colorado.
“It’s interesting. The types of urgent care visits in spring and summer vary quite a bit (from winter). As the weather gets nicer, visits are more activity- related. The sports-related injuries just flood in during the summer,” he said.
He and his staff treat a lot of sprains and strains, cuts and abrasions, from people doing everything from overzealous yard work to falling while climbing a rock to slipping by a pool.
“We saw one poor guy who came in one week because he crashed his bike and fell on his left side. Then he came in a week later and he’d crashed and fallen on his right side. He was in a lot of pain,” Tullberg said.
Most sprains and strains can be treated at home, but if the injury causes the patient to have a significant limp or have trouble walking, then they need to get to urgent care or a physician, he said.
“If you’re having trouble walking, you can develop compensation injuries. If you’re having a hard time getting around, you need to come in. If you’re just sore, you probably don’t need to come in. It really depends on the patient’s comfort level.”
When is an X-ray required?
“There are certain rules we go by to decide if we need an X-ray,” he said, but sometimes a medical professional just has to go by instinct.
Can a perceived sprain actually be a broken bone?
“Absolutely, it can be. I had an 80-year-old woman come in last year who said she had turned her ankle and it ‘just didn’t feel right.’ We did an X-ray and her fibula was actually snapped in half,” he recalled.
Treatment for sprains and strains varies by the body part, Tullberg said.
“Most of the time, it’ll be something like an Ace bandage to keep swelling down. If it involves walking, we may put you on crutches. If it’s the shoulder, we might put you in a sling or brace. For some things, nothing can really help” except taking an anti-inflammatory, icing the injury, resting and/or elevating it or using compression to control swelling, he said.
Urgent care staff typically see a lot of rib injuries, he added.
“The big problem with that is we use the rib cage for breathing, so you can’t really do much except pain management. We do check to make sure the ribs do not need surgery; it’s rare that they do.”
As for minor cuts and scrapes, the main goal is to clean the wound at home.
“We see a lot of people with cuts and scrapes, and they believe the old wives’ tale about putting hydrogen peroxide or alcohol on it. Stop doing that! Just plain soap and water are the best. Soap and water, soap and water, soap and water. Peroxide and alcohol can actually damage tissues.”
If a cut is deep or an abrasion is very serious then by all means get to urgent care, he added. If in doubt, it’s better to seek help than not.