This content is brought to you in partnership with OrthoCarolina, one of the nation's leading orthopedic practices with offices across the Southeast. 


Even when you have a friend to help you back up, hurting yourself at a workout sucks. What sucks even more? Not knowing what to do to get yourself back in tip-top shape after being injured.

Let's say the injury was pretty serious. How do you know whether to go to the ER or urgent care for medical attention? That's the question we hoped our trusted advisors at OrthoCarolina could answer — because aside from being one of the nation's leading orthopedic practices, OrthoCarolina also has a variety of convenient urgent care locations offering daytime walk-in appointments and after-hour care.

We asked PA Andy Hylton how to determine whether your injury warrants a visit to the ER or to urgent care — here's what he had to say.

If you injured yourself, before you even consider a medical evaluation, there are a few steps you should take on your own first.

"The vast majority of a new injuries are treated with a combination of ice, anti-inflammatories (Aleve or ibuprofen), and rest. It is not unreasonable to utilize this plan of care prior to being evaluated by a medical professional," he explained. 

But if you ice the injury, take an anti-inflammatory, and get some rest, but you're still in pain, then it's time to consider seeking the guidance of someone in the medical field.

"If the patient feels they need to be seen, then severity of the injury, the amount of discomfort, and patient expectations dictate where would be the most appropriate location for evaluation," Hylton added.

Consider the severity of the injury.

The first thing to consider is whether there was a particular event that led to your pain, or if it's pain you're dealing with outside of a specific physically traumatic experience. 

"If the patient experiences an orthopedic concern without a significant injury event — for instance, if they are just sore after a workout or they have experienced continued soreness after working out for a number of weeks or months — then urgent care would be the ideal location," said Hylton.

What if there was a specific physically traumatic experience, but the event was relatively low impact and the pain is noticeable but not severe?

"Injuries which often occur at lower levels of force would also be cause for a routine visit at the Orthopedic Urgent Care," Hylton answered.

In fact, even if you think you could have broken a bone, it might make more sense not to go to the ER. "Concerns for a broken bone with no or limited deformity with seen at the urgent care," Hylton said. 

Consider your level of discomfort.

This part is going to require some honest reflection on your part, which can be hard when you're struggling with the pain of an injury. But it's crucial to consider your pain on a scale from 1 - 10, with 10 being the highest.

"If you claim that the pain is a 10, that would necessitate a trip to the ER," Hylton said. "Urgent care facilities do not stock pain medication on site, and therefore if the patient feels they will need some type of medication prior to being evaluated, the ER would be the preferred choice."

Consider your expectations as a patient.

While medical providers prefer generating the treatment plan (hello, they're the ones who do this for a living!), often patients have the own expectations about what will occur during their visit.

"If you are hoping the provider will order a stat MRI, this primarily occurs at the ER if indicated," Hylton explained. "If you are concerned about the potential of a blood clot, these cannot be evaluated at urgent care and will require trip to the ER. A CT scan can look at bony injuries with greater detail — and this study cannot be completed at an urgent care."

So, if your expectations include any of the above, then a visit to the ER might be in order.

What kinds of injuries could be treated at an orthopedic urgent care?

  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Sprains/strains
  • Contusions
  • Acute pain, such as sudden back pain
  • Pediatric injuries
  • Painful, swollen or injured joints of the ankle, back, elbow, foot, hand, hip, knee, neck, and shoulder
  • Cast or wound dressing issues
  • And more

However, Hylton made a point to note that while other urgent cares will see patients with minor open wounds (cuts and lacerations) and perform on-site suturing (stitches), OrthoCarolina doesn't see any open wounds and will not apply stitches on site.

Where can I find an OrthoCarolina orthopedic urgent care location?

Click here to choose a location convenient for you in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Kernersville, and more to get immediate care for your bumps and bruises and beyond, as OrthoCarolina offers same-day appointments from a certified specialist for the treatment and care of these orthopedic conditions.