Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is injury?

Any damage to your body is an injury. Injuries can be caused by accidents or acts of violence, and may occur at home, work, or play. They can be due to impact from blunt objects or from objects that penetrate the body. Common types of injury include abrasions, lacerations, hematomas, broken bones, joint dislocations, sprains, strains, and burns.

Injuries can be minor or severe. Minor injuries can often be managed with basic first aid techniques, while major injuries may require medical intervention or evaluation in an emergency setting. In some cases, a seemingly minor injury may in fact be a major injury requiring more urgent medical attention. Your doctor will also determine if an underlying medical condition was responsible. For example, a bruise that came from a fall caused by an elderly person fainted while attempting to stand – all because of poor blood circulation.

Many injuries can be prevented through use of safety devices, such as infant car seats, helmets, goggles, seatbelts, and child-resistant containers. Risk of injuries can be minimized by following commonsense safety precautions, such as avoiding contact with very hot surfaces and using caution during outdoor activities like hiking or boating. Diagnosis and treatment of injury has improved over time, so that once fatal injuries are now much more likely to be survivable. Even so, significant injuries can have long-lasting complications that can require ongoing care. In the United States, accidental injuries are the leading cause of death in those between ages one and 44 years (Source: CDC Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source ).

Treatment of injury depends upon the type and severity. In the event of a severe injury, calling 911 and use of basic life support measures can save a life. It is also important to prevent any further injury, which may involve stabilization of the spine, splinting injuries, and reducing ongoing blood loss as much as possible.

Serious injury can lead to permanent disability and may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms such as heavy bleeding, visible deformity, broken bones, large burns, injury to the head with confusion or loss of consciousness, severe pain, rapid or absent heartbeat, weak pulse, blood in vomit or stool, difficulty breathing, pale or blue lips, chest pain or pressure, seizure, change in level of consciousness or mental status, injury to back or neck, or if you have any other reason to be concerned that the injury might be life threatening.

What are the symptoms of injury?

Injury symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of the injury itself. Injuries range from minor cuts, bruises and scrapes to large, open wounds, severe burns, and blunt force resulting in unconsciousness.

Common symptoms of injury

Injury symptoms include:

  • Abrasions (scrapes)

  • Bleeding or uncontrolled or heavy bleeding, hemorrhage

  • Bone deformity or other type of deformity

  • Burns, which may redden skin, cause blistering, or have a leathery white appearance

  • Joint swelling

  • Lacerations (cuts)

  • Pain

  • Reduced mobility (range of motion of the joint)

  • Tissue swelling with or without discoloration

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, injury can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Abnormal pupil size or nonreactivity to light

  • Bleeding or abdominal trauma while pregnant

  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, palpitations

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, choking

  • Severe pain

  • Trauma, such as bone deformity, burns, eye injuries, and other injuries such as significant injuries to the head, neck or back

  • Uncontrolled or heavy bleeding, hemorrhage

  • Vomiting blood, major rectal bleeding, or bloody stool

  • Weak or absent pulse

What causes injury?

Anything that can damage the body can cause an injury. Injuries can be accidental or intentional, as in the case of acts of violence, and can be caused by blunt or sharp objects, impact at high speed, falls, animal or insect bites, fire or extreme heat, and exposure to chemicals and toxins. You can prevent or reduce the risk of many injuries by following basic safety precautions.

Causes of injury

The numerous causes of injury include:

  • Acts of violence by others

  • Bicycle or motor vehicle accidents

  • Bite or sting injuries

  • Burns (thermal, chemical or electrical)

  • Drowning

  • Falls, impacts

  • Overuse and repetitive motion injuries

  • Poisonings and chemical exposures

  • Sports or athletic injuries

What are the risk factors for injury?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing injury. Not all people with risk factors will get injury. Risk factors for injury include:

  • Age (injuries are a common cause of death in those 44 and younger, and older people are at greater risk of sustaining injuries from falling)

  • Aggressive or violent behavior

  • Alcohol and illicit drug use

  • Bone or joint disorders

  • Certain medications that depress the central nervous system or reduce blood pressure

  • Chronic illnesses

  • Decreased sensation

  • Distraction, inattention

  • Dementia and other conditions that affect mental function

  • Failure to use automotive seatbelts

  • Gait disturbances

  • Hearing problems

  • Poor judgment

  • Poor vision

  • Reduced mobility

  • Refusal to wear recommended protective equipment and headgear

  • Weakness

Reducing your risk of injury

You may be able to lower your risk of injury by:

  • Engaging in regular physical activity to enhance general good health

  • Installing handrails and grab bars

  • Obeying speed limits and using crosswalks

  • Optimizing lighting in and around your home

  • Putting children in car seats and booster seats

  • Reducing clutter and other tripping hazards in your home or office

  • Using nonslip mats or strips in the bathtub and shower

  • Wearing a helmet when riding bicycles, scooters or motorcycles

  • Wearing a seatbelt when driving

  • Wearing appropriate safety equipment during sports or other potentially risky activities

  • Wearing safety equipment, such as goggles, aprons and gloves, when working with hazardous substances or in dangerous areas

How is injury treated?

Treatment of injury depends upon its type and severity. Some injuries can be treated with basic first aid techniques such as wound cleansing, application of antibiotic ointments or liquids, wound dressings, rest, application of ice, compression, and elevation. More severe injuries may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other resuscitation procedures, stitches, or surgery.

Common injury treatments

Common treatments for injury include:

  • Antibiotic ointments or liquids to reduce the risk of infection

  • Pain medications to reduce discomfort

  • Rehabilitative therapy to improve strength and function

  • Resuscitation to maintain circulation, airway, ventilation, and blood volume

  • R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation), particularly for sprains, strains, pulled muscles, and other soft tissue injuries

  • Splinting, casting, setting or relocating broken bones and joint dislocations

  • Stabilization of the neck and back

  • Stitches to close surface layers of the skin

  • Surgery to remove foreign bodies, stop bleeding, and repair or remove damaged tissues and organs

  • Transfusion to replace lost blood

  • Use of topical cortisone, antihistamines, or epinephrine for injuries that may be associated with allergies, such as bug bites and bee stings

  • Wound cleansing or irrigation to remove foreign particles

  • Wound dressings to protect wounds

What are the potential complications of injury?

Complications of untreated or poorly managed injury can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your doctor design specifically for you. Complications of injury include:

  • Abscess

  • Adverse effects of treatment

  • Amputation

  • Decreased range of motion

  • Deformity

  • Infection

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Loss of cognitive function

  • Loss of sensation or abnormal sensations

  • Loss of vision

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Physical disability

  • Weakness

Was this helpful?
  1. Injury topics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Injuries. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Pfeifer R, Pape HC. Missed injuries in trauma patients: A literature review. Patient Saf Surg 2008; 2:20.
  4. Mackenzie EJ, Rivara FP, Jurkovich GJ, et al. The National Study on Costs and Outcomes of Trauma. J Trauma 2007; 63:S54.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 21
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