Duration Health — Field Guide: Trauma



Falls are a common cause of injury while camping, hiking, or traveling outdoors. Many minor traumatic injuries like small superficial burns, bruises, cuts, and sprains, can be safely managed with basic wound care and over-the-counter medications.

More severe injuries such as deep or large burns, broken bones, and deep lacerations or severe bleeding, will require immediate medical attention.


Sprains and strains

If a joint or extremity is painful and swollen after a fall or injury, but you can still move it and bear some weight, it may be sprained or strained. Rest, ice, a supportive splint or bandage like an elastic wrap, elevation, and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can all be helpful. Try to avoid activities that make the pain significantly worse. If pain is worsening or not improving after 2-3 days, medical evaluation may be needed.


Burns can be superficial, partial thickness, or full thickness. A superficial burn is like a sunburn and causes redness and pain. A partial thickness burn causes blisters, which may fill with clear fluid. A full thickness burn damages all skin layers and can cause black or white areas that are numb.

Superficial burns and small areas of partial thickness burns with only small blisters can be treated by immediately cooling the area in cold running water. Small areas of open skin and blisters should be covered with an antibiotic ointment like Bacitracin or mupirocin and a dry, clean bandage.

Never apply ice to a burn and don’t apply oils or butter. Oral antibiotics are not typically needed for burns. OTC pain medications like ibuprofen can help with pain.

Full thickness burns, large areas of partial thickness burns, and burns affecting the hands or face, require immediate medical care.


Any cut or wound should be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible after it occurs. Using a large volume of clean water is the best way to clean a wound. You can irrigate a wound using a running tap or shower, a syringe, a squeezable bottle, or a plastic bag with a hole poked in it. Any clean water such as tap water, purified drinking water, or boiled water is appropriate to use to clean wounds. The water does not need to be sterile but should be purified first if coming from a lake, river, or stream.

After a wound is clean, and bleeding is controlled, apply a layer of antibiotic ointment such as triple antibiotic or mupirocin ointment and a sterile bandage over the area. See the Bleeding section for wounds that are actively bleeding.

Very large or deep wounds, wounds with significant bleeding, and wounds on the face and mobile parts of the hands and fingers, require emergent medical evaluation.

When To Worry

If there are signs of a broken bone, such as a noticeably out-of-place joint, or you are unable to move an injured body part, you should seek emergency care.

Any large, deep wounds, wounds with bleeding that cannot be controlled by direct pressure, or wounds that involve a joint, the face, or the mobile parts of the hands, should be evaluated in person.

Large areas of partial thickness burns, burns to the hands or face, and full thickness burns require medical attention.

If an injury is getting worse or not improving after 2-3 days of rest and over-the-counter medications, or if you see signs of infection, you should seek medical care.


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