Article By: Eric Carrell of True North Athletics
How to Field Treat Injuries
Whenever you head out into the wilderness you’re always expecting a great day. Whether it’s to fish, hike or camp it’s only natural to assume that you’ll be alright. However, enjoying the outdoors always carries a certain amount of risk and a little bit of preparation is essential to make sure you know how to effectively treat any injuries you or others in your group may get.
In this article we’ll give you the basics on how to treat some of the more common injuries that occur in the field. Please keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Consider completing a first aid course to further your knowledge and seek the help of a medical professional as soon as possible in an emergency situation.
Wilderness First Aid Kit
When it comes to first aid kits for outdoor adventurers, there are no standard requirements. What yours should include depends on what you’re doing, where you’re going, how long you’ll be away for and how far you’ll be from medical assistance. Whether you’re buying a standard first aid kit or putting your own together these basics should be included:
- Sterile dressings
- Athletic tape for securing bandages, supporting strains and preventing blisters
- Alcohol wipes, iodine solution or antiseptic cream
- Small knife
- Anti-diarrhoea tablets
- Antihistamine tablets for mild allergic reactions
- Electrolyte replacement tablets
- Water treatment tablets
- Emergency blanket – numerous uses including treating shock, hypothermia and building a temporary shelter
First Aid Response
In the wilderness, your response to an injury is critical. These basic steps should always be followed:
1. Stay calm and try to calm the injured person
2. Assess the area for danger - You can’t help if you’re injured as well so don’t put yourself in danger and only move the injured person if absolutely necessary
3. Call for help if possible
4. Start CPR if the injured person isn’t breathing – once you start CPR you probably won’t be able to stop until medical staff are on scene so make sure help is on its way first
5. Stop any bleeding
6. Check for injuries to the head, neck and spine
7. Check for other injuries
8. Treat injuries from the most important to the least
If you weren’t able to call for help, decide if the injured person can be moved to get help. If they can’t, set up a shelter to keep them warm and dry and leave food and water for them while you leave to get help.
Prevent blisters by wearing well-fitted shoes and changing your socks if they get wet or sweaty, as wet skin is more likely to blister. Treat any hot spots before they develop into a blister by covering sore areas with athletic tape to prevent any further rubbing.
In the wilderness, all open wounds should be rinsed with clean water to flush out any dirt or foreign objects, wiped with an antibacterial solution and covered with a dressing and/or bandage. To prevent infection, open wounds should be regularly cleaned and re-dressed (at least once a day) until the wound has healed.
More serious bleeding should be stopped as quickly as possible by applying pressure and elevating the bleeding area to be above the level of the heart. If bleeding on a limb can’t be stopped, apply a tourniquet between the injured site and the heart. This should only be done in extreme situations and medical help should be sought immediately.
Most fishhook injuries are best left in place to be removed by a medical professional as soon as possible. If the barb hasn’t embedded the skin, you may be able to gently pull the hook out and treat the area as an open wound.
However, if the barb is embedded and you’re in the field, try to control bleeding by packing bandages around the insertion site and applying pressure. Try to avoid moving the hook, using bandages to hold the hook in place. If the hook is near the eye, muscle, bone or near a joint it’s particularly important not to remove the hook and seek help immediately.
The proper treatment for a sprain involves the RICE method – rest, ice, compress and elevate but if you’re out in the field this probably won’t be possible. If you do have ice with you, apply it to the sprained area and wrap the ankle to compress the area and create as much stability as possible. If you have to walk back to get help, take regular breaks and elevate the sprained area to try to reduce swelling.
Without an x-ray it can be really difficult to tell whether an injury is a sprain or a fracture and if you’re not sure, treat it as a fracture. Find something to splint the fracture and tie it firmly to the limb being careful not to aggravate any pain or cut off the blood supply. If the fractured bone has broken the skin, stop any bleeding and cover the wound with a dressing and/or bandage before splinting.
Dehydration and Heat Illnesses
Dehydration and heat illnesses can occur in any type of weather conditions. Prevention is the best treatment so make sure you take enough water with you or know where it’s available on your track. Drink water throughout the day and if you start to get a headache, dry mouth or intense thirst, drink more.
Heat exhaustion can occur if dehydration isn’t properly treated so make sure you rest in a cool area and drink water with added electrolytes if you’re feeling nauseous, faint, have a rapid pulse or clammy skin.
Heat stroke is usually a progression from heat exhaustion but can sometimes occur without earlier symptoms. It’s a serious condition marked by hot, dry, flushed skin, behavioral changes and a lack of sweating, despite the heat. Help should be sought immediately while you try to cool the patient down as quickly as possible by resting in the shade and pouring cool water over their skin. If you have ice, apply it to the armpits, neck, groin and back.
If you’re travelling in cold conditions, watch for the early signs of hypothermia such as stopping shivering despite the cold, numbness and poor coordination. If hypothermia is suspected, seek shelter from the wind, snow or rain, change all wet clothes for dry ones, wrap yourself in a sleeping bag and/or emergency blanket, have a warm drink (not caffeine or alcohol) and seek immediate help.
While exploring the outdoors is inherently risky, don’t let it stop you from getting outside and enjoying the wilderness. Prepare yourself by learning about first aid, carry a first aid kit, check the weather forecast before heading out and use common sense to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Always carry a cell phone or a GPS device with an emergency beacon.
You may be able to find enough signal to make a call by hiking to the top of a nearby mountain. Lastly, keep your first aid skills fresh in your mind by taking regular courses and/or reading about the latest techniques so that you can act calmly and effectively in emergency situations.
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