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What is an Acute Injury?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An acute injury is an injury with a sudden onset, usually as a result of trauma. When treated promptly, such injuries are of limited duration. Untreated injuries can develop complications that may lead to chronic injuries, injuries that persist in the long term without resolving, and in some cases, people can die from untreated acute injuries. Treatment of severe acute injuries is the province of the emergency room, while milder injuries can be managed at home with first aid.

Some causes of acute injuries are burns, electrical shock, car accidents, falls, sprains and strains, and fights. In all cases, a single incident causes an injury and the severity of the injury can vary. People with mild injuries retain consciousness and do not require extensive medical intervention. More severe injuries may require surgery and other emergency measures to prevent loss of life or permanent disability for the injured person.

Certain acute injuries are larger causes for concern than others. Head injuries must be carefully evaluated because they can result in brain damage and may put a patient at risk for complications in the future. Bruising of the abdomen as seen in car accidents, some types of falls, and beatings can also be a worry because it is possible for the patient to experience internal bleeding or organ damage that are not readily apparent. Likewise, an injury acquired in a contaminated environment is worrisome to care providers because it can lead to infections if microorganisms and other materials managed to enter the patient's body.

Immediate treatment requires assessment to determine the location and nature of the injury. The patient's level of consciousness must also be assessed. If the patient is breathing, talking, and experiencing minimal pain after an acute injury, these can be signs that the injury is minor and can be treated with cleaning and monitoring. Patients who experience severe pain, have difficulty breathing, or develop an altered level of consciousness may require attention from a physician.

The concern with these injuries is that if they are not treated appropriately, the patient can develop secondary injuries. These can include infection, inflammation, tissue death, disfigurement, permanent muscle damage, and other problems. Providing patients with timely and appropriate treatment for the injury can limit damage that leads to chronic problems. For example, if an athlete has a torn ligament, the limb involved needs to be rested and the patient may need physical therapy to rebuild strength.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By live2shop — On Jun 29, 2011

It is probably a wise idea if we all learn more about different kinds of injuries and how to assess the seriousness of the injury and when to go to the emergency room, and when to treat it on your own.

A few years ago, I experienced an injury, and didn't use good judgment. I fell in a gravel parking lot. I went back home and was going to wait for my son-in-law to come back home, so he could take me to the emergency room. I didn't want to bother him at work. I had broken my wrist and my elbow and my arm was swelling up huge. I had just moved to this town and didn't know anyone. No excuse!

By ajvician — On Jun 29, 2011

Recently a friend of mine was with a group rock rappelling and one of the guys had a bad fall. Although he had an acute knee injury he was able to recover well from his fall.

The sad thing was that no one in the group knew what to do except dial 911. Thank goodness they had mobile phone reception where they were.

After that experience my friend decided that he was going to take some first aid training so he would be better prepared to help when people are injured.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 28, 2011

@seag47 – Ice can also help even if you have a suspected bone injury. You should always go to a doctor or emergency room for treatment of acute bone injuries, but they will likely tell you to keep ice on the area.

I injured my knee in a car accident. I did go to the emergency room, where they performed x-rays. They were afraid I might have permanent damage to my knee, so they set me up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. However, in the meantime, they told me to hold an ice pack on the area several times a day to prevent further swelling.

I don't know if it was the ice or if my knee wasn't damaged as badly as they had thought, but in a month, I had healed up so much that I didn't need to go to that orthopedic surgeon. Either way, I will always use ice packs for all of my future injuries.

By seag47 — On Jun 28, 2011

My mom is a nurse, and she explained to me that most soft tissue acute injuries not involving bones can be treated at home. I am very accident prone, so she wanted to save me some medical expenses by letting me in on this.

She told me that when a muscle tears, tissue fluid leaks out and builds up near the injury site. This causes swelling and tenderness. The area may also feel warm and look red because of the increased circulation.

This process starts from the moment the injury occurs. You may not have stiffness and pain right away, because it can take between 24 and 72 hours for enough tissue fluid to build up and cause symptoms.

You should always apply an ice pack to a soft tissue acute injury as soon as possible to help prevent swelling and pain. You will be much more comfortable in the days following an accident if you have iced an injury than you will be if you have done nothing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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