When Is a Minor Injury Not a Minor Injury?

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Getting proper care and understanding the difference between major and minor injuries could save your life someday. Of course, there are times when the difference between urgent and minor wounds is very clear. When you fall and break your leg or get into a car accident, the impact is obvious. It is immediately evident that you are dealing with an emergency and need urgent care. At other times, however, the difference between minor and major wounds may be hard to distinguish. In certain cases, you might start with a minor wound but then find that it escalates into something more serious.

To prevent a delay in getting adequate healthcare and suffering from the long-term health problems that those delays can cause, let’s take a look at the key distinctions between major and minor injuries.

What Is an Injury?

Let’s start with the fundamentals of diagnosis to help you get started. When we talk about wounds, we are talking about any kind of physical harm that can happen to your body as a result of slips, falls, accidents, and any other trauma that results in bruising, disfigurement, or loss of mobility. Of course, that is an extremely general definition that we are starting with. That is why, to properly define, classify and categorise them into more distinct categories to better understand their severity and the potential treatment options available.

Acute vs Chronic Injuries

The first two categories that we use to define wounds are acute and chronic. When you have a sudden accident, it is considered an acute wound. Some examples would be shoulder dislocations or ankle injuries. When you have a sudden onset of pain especially in the hips and swelling, it is a telltale sign of an acute wound Likewise, if you abruptly find that you have lost your range of movement and you can’t do your normal everyday activities, that is a sign of an acute wound.

Meanwhile, if you are dealing with a wound that gradually gets worse over time and you aren’t quite sure of when it started, you likely have a chronic injury. These types of chronic injuries often come from long-term overuse, repeated stress, or ongoing wear and tear on a particular part of your body. As you age, they become more common. Similarly, athletes who push their bodies to their limits and those who work in jobs requiring redundant movements are more prone to dealing with sports injuries like tennis elbow and torn meniscus.

Looking for orthopaedic treatment? Check out our tennis elbow treatment page or talk to a torn meniscus treatment specialist today!

Mild vs Severe Injuries

There is a wide range of severities when it comes to wounds. From mild to severe, they can range from a life-threatening condition to a small issue that will pass within a few days. While it is usually quite easy to see the difference between acute and chronic injuries, you may not always be able to tell if your wound falls into the mild or severe category. Some start out as minor and escalate to severe. These are the times that you have to ask: when is a minor injury, not a minor injury? To help you define the severity, let’s take a closer look at how we define major vs minor wounds.

What are Major Injuries?

Generally, we define major wounds as severe but non-fatal. A few examples of a major wound include the following:

  • Amputation
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Paralysis
  • Bone fractures
  • Bone dislocations
  • Bone spurs
  • Electric shock
  • Asphyxia
  • Drowning
  • Severe burns requiring more than 20 days of medical leave
  • Concussions requiring more than 20 days of medical leave
  • Mosquito-borne disease requiring more than 20 days of medical leave
  • Head injuries
  • Eye injuries
  • Profound lacerations
  • Severe burns
  • injuries paired with paralysis, chest pain, disorientation, severe bleeding, or unconsciousness

What are Minor Injuries?

When we are talking about minor wounds, we are talking about non-severe injuries that will create a brief medical leave and have a minor impact on your daily activities. Most of these injuries can easily be treated by a chiropractor, or using heat and ice therapy at home. Some examples of minor injuries include the following:

  • Shallow cuts
  • Minor abrasions
  • Sprains
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Bruises
  • Skin lesions
  • Minor burns covering a small area

How to Tell the Difference Between Major and Minor Injuries

What is the difference between a major wound and a minor one? If the exact diagnosis isn’t clear and doesn’t fit neatly into the categories listed above, it is time to take a closer look at the injury to fully understand what you are dealing with and what needs to be done. The first thing to consider is its severity and then the medical treatment requirements.

Understanding the Severity of the Injury

At our Singapore clinic, we often get panicked calls from people asking if they are dealing with an emergency or just need to book a consultation. There are countless examples of cases where its severity is simply not clear until you are in a doctor’s office getting a proper examination. At home, however, there are some factors that you can try to weigh as you are deciding what to do.

One of the major distinctions between a minor and a major injury is the extent to which it affects your life. When you are dealing with a major one, you may have lost your ability to get around in the way that you used to. You might have experienced a significant reduction in your quality of life. The harder it is for you to function normally, the more severe the issue is.

Medical Treatment Requirements

The first and most obvious consideration when you are injured is your need for medical care. Severe ones often require urgent care as well as long-term orthopaedic treatment. As always, when it comes to your health, it is better to err on the side of caution.

Delaying or avoiding treatment can be dangerous. At the same time, treating them at home can be even more dangerous. Even a trained healthcare professional can’t properly treat an issue without the right equipment and diagnostics tools like X-rays or MRI scans so don’t try to guess your way through treatment at home.

The Lifesaving Force of Singapore has a guide showing what to do in the case of emergencies and sudden health issues. It is good to familiarise yourself with the basics as you never know when a crisis might arise.

When Should I Call 995?

You should always call 995 in Singapore in the event of the following:

  • Choking
  • Not breathing
  • Injured head with confusion or unconsciousness
  • Injured neck, such as whiplash
  • Injured spine
  • An electric shock or lightning strike
  • Severe burn
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • A seizure lasting more than one minute
  • A seizure leaves someone unconscious

Remember that there are always trained professionals waiting to help you when you call 995. They can determine if you are dealing with an emergency and tell you exactly what to do. While you don’t want to call over every bump and scrape you experience in life, you should always if your instincts tell you that it could be a serious emergency.

When Should I Visit A&E?

There are times when you might opt to go to the closest hospital rather than calling 995. This decision might depend on your location as well as the logistics of travel but ultimately it should come down to the specific symptoms that you are experiencing. While each case is different, generally speaking, if you are experiencing any of the following, you should go directly to the closest A&E:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Unusual pain in your arm or jaw
  • Sudden, intense headache
  • Unable to speak, see, or move
  • Suddenly weakness
  • Persistent dizziness
  • Smoke or poisonous fume inhalation
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Broken bone or loss of movement
  • Serious burns
  • Throwing up blood
  • Severe pain
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Persistent throwing up or diarrhoea
  • Poisoning
  • Overdose of drugs or alcohol

The list above is a general guideline. It is crucial to listen to your body and trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, it is worth checking out.

When Does a Minor Injury Become a Major Injury?

While a wound might seem minor at first, things can change. Minor injuries don’t necessarily heal on their own and can become severe if you don’t receive proper treatment. Regardless of how small the problem may seem to you, it requires observation at a minimum.

Take for example the case of a shallow cut. While it might start out as a minor wound, even a small cut can be infected and escalated. In a different type of case like an injured shoulder, the problem may look minor from the exterior but require urgent medical care to treat the issues that aren’t visible at a superficial glance. If that medical care isn’t received, it can result in life-threatening complications

Here are a few signs that it may be more serious than you thought:

  • Pain that lasts more than three weeks: If the pain doesn’t get better with rest, you are dealing with a chronic health problem that needs to be assessed and properly treated.
  • Restricted movement with minimal pain or no discomfort: If your range of motion changes without any obvious injury, don’t ignore it. These problems can turn into long-term disability.
  • Popping or cracking sensation in the joints: If strange sounds and feelings come up out of nowhere, it is time to see a healthcare professional.

If you are working long periods in front of the computer, it is good to relieve backaches with these exercises to prevent further injury.

Getting Medical Assistance in Singapore

Don’t let your injury go from bad to worse! You should never neglect your body. Every injury is worth treating and can prevent an incredible amount of pain, time, and money down the line. Whether it is a simple assessment and a plan for at-home treatment or preventing a life-threatening condition, visit our Singapore clinic today to take care of your health. We offer comprehensive treatment for knee pain and other injuries like ACL tears and rotator cuff injuries.

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About The Author

dr james tan

Dr James Tan Chung Hui

Dr James Tan is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon at Quantum Orthopaedics who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine in Singapore. Apart from partnering with the industry to introduce various treatment techniques, Dr Tan has treated athletes from the Singapore National Teams and professional footballers from the Singapore Premier League and the Young Lions.

Dr Tan specialises in treating sports injuries of the knee, shoulder and elbow joints, as well as cartilage and meniscus surgery. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

Qualifications and Achievements
MBBS - National University of Singapore (NUS), Faculty of Medicine
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (MRCS)
MMed - Master of Medicine in Orthopaedic Surgery (NUS)
Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh)
Adjunct Assistant Professor | NUS, LKC
Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgery, Sports and Exercise Medicine
Head of Department | Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Centre
Principal Investigator of Tissue Engineering
National Medical Research Council grants
Collaboration with Scientists at NTU, TUM, A*Star, Osteopore & Trendlines Medical Singapore


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  2. Prudential
  3. HSBC Life
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  2. Fullerton
  3. Adept
  4. Alliance