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Minor Injuries

Cuts, burns, sprains, and strains are common minor injuries that you may experience. Find information about these injuries, how to treat them, and how to know when you need to go see a doctor.

Recognizing and Treating Minor Injuries

Any type of skin wound needs to be thoroughly cleaned to reduce the risk of infection and to promote healing.

If you have a minor cut or skin wound, you need to:

  1. Stop the bleeding
  2. Clean the wound
  3. Bandage the wound (if needed)
Stop the Bleeding
  • Apply direct pressure to the wound for 15 minutes and elevate the injured area. Use material such as clean cloths.
  • If blood soaks through the cloth, apply another one without lifting the first.
  • Mild bleeding usually stops on its own or slows to an ooze or trickle after 15 minutes of pressure.
Clean the Wound
  • Rinse the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Scrub the wound gently with a face cloth while holding it under running water. This is to remove any dirt, debris, or bacteria from the wound.
Bandage the Wound
  • You can cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
  • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Take the bandage off and leave it off whenever the wound will not become irritated or dirty.
  • Watch for signs of infection.
When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if:

  • You have a wound that is large, deep, or very dirty.
  • You have moderate or severe bleeding that has not slowed or stopped after applying direct pressure for 15 minutes.
  • Your wound is too painful to clean or you cannot remove dirt, debris, or a foreign object.
  • An infection develops.
Quick Test to Determine If You Need Stitches
  1. Stop the bleeding
  2. Wash the wound
  3. Pinch the sides of the wound together

If the edges of the wound come together, and it looks better, you may want to consider getting stitches.


(Adapted from HealthLink BC)

Burns are generally divided into three categories: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. The severity of a burn is based on how deep it goes and how much of the body it covers.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are superficial burns and have similar characteristics to a sunburn. The skin is usually still intact, but may appear to be red, very warm or hot to the touch, and painful. There may also be small blisters, and swelling in and around the area of injury. This type of burn generally heals in 3 to 5 days.

Second-Degree Burns

A second-degree burn occurs when the second layer of skin (called the dermis) is burned. The skin is usually very red and extremely painful. There is usually the formation of blisters and a fair amount of swelling. This type of burn generally heals in 10 to 15 days.

You should seek medical help if a second-degree burn is larger than 2-3cm in diameter, or is located on functional parts of the body such as the face, eyes, ears, hands, feet, genitals, buttocks, or a major joint.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns are NOT minor burns. They need to be evaluated and treated by a healthcare provider immediately.

First-Aid Treatment for Minor Burns
  • Run the burn under cool (not cold) water for at least 5 minutes.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile bandage or clean cloth. Ensure that you wrap the burned area loosely.
  • You can apply soothing lotions that contain aloe vera. This can help relieve pain and discomfort.
  • You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Do not apply ice.
  • Do not use butter or ointments on the burn.
  • Do not break any blisters.

Note: Even a small burn has the potential you become infected. You should see your doctor if you have a persistent fever that is not relieved by medication, redness that may extend beyond the border of the burn, or pain that is not controlled by an over-the-counter pain reliever.


(Adapted from The Canadian Skin Patient Alliance and The American Burn Association)

What is a Sprain?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament. You can get a sprain if you overstretch or tear a ligament.

What is a Strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. You can get a strain if you overstretch, twist, or tear a muscle or tendon.

Signs and Symptoms 

Signs and symptoms of sprains include:

  • Pain
  • Joint tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • A warm feeling at the injured area
  • Inability or difficulty moving the injured joint

Signs and symptoms of strains include:

  • Pain
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling, cramping, or inflammation

With a mild sprain or strain, there is usually relatively little pain and swelling, and possibly no bruising.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if:

  • You cannot walk more than a few steps or put any pressure on the joint
  • You cannot move the injured joint
  • You are experiencing a lot of pain, swelling, and obvious bruising
  • The injured area looks deformed – it looks crooked, bumpy, or lumpy
  • You are experiencing numbness in any part of the injured area
  • You are unsure about the seriousness of the injury
  • The injury is to a joint that has been injured more than once before
  • Swelling and redness is increasing despite following RICE
Treatment for Mild Sprains and Strains

Follow RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) within the first 48 hours to reduce pain and swelling.

Rest: Give yourself relative rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling, or discomfort.

Ice: Ice helps to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Cover the ice with a thin towel and ice the area immediately. Then apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you are awake for the first few days.

Compression: Compression can help reduce swelling. Do not wrap the bandage too tight or it may block circulation. Loosen the bandage if the pain or swelling increases, or if the area becomes numb.

Elevation: Elevation can help to drain fluid and reduce swelling. Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart. Do this as often as possible for the first few days, especially at night.

After the first two days, gently begin to use the injured area. You should see gradual improvement and decreased pain.

Learn More Here

(Adapted from the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation, McGill University Student Health Service, and University of Northern Colorado Student Health Center)