5 Treatments for Bruises

By: Kevin P. Allen

Whether you’ve taken a spill on your bicycle, caught an elbow in the chops during a basketball game, or simply bumped your knee into a coffee table, you know the pain is momentary but the contusion can last as many as two or three weeks. You can, however, help move along the healing process.

Here's how a bruise evolves. First, a bruise is created when tiny blood vessels called capillaries rupture. Blood from those vessels leaks into the surrounding tissue creating a reddish appearance. Swelling causes oxygen to be cut off to the area which changes the color to purple or blue. The hemoglobin in your blood which carries iron will begin to break down and become greenish after about a week. The area will take on a yellow or brown appearance after eight or nine days as your body reabsorbs the leaked blood from your capillaries.


Understanding the healing process can be helpful as you try to remove the unsightly reminder of your mishap. In some rare instances, a bruise may need a doctor’s care. Unexplained bruising around the navel or behind the ear, for example, can be evidence of internal bleeding or a skull fracture. Multiple swollen bruises that appear without an injury may indicate autoimmune disease. If a bruise caused by a blow remains raised and painful, it may be a hematoma which needs to be drained by a physician. In some instances, your body will deposit calcium around an injury creating a heterotopic ossification which can be diagnosed with an x-ray.

The vast majority of bruises simply need time and a little informed TLC which you’ll find by clicking ahead.

Bring on the Cold

You can decrease the size of the bruise with quick action and something cold. Grab an ice pack or wrap a handful of ice cubes in a towel or put some ice in a plastic bag and place it against the bruise. Cold reduces blood flow, which limits growth of the bruise. You've probably seen or heard about the use of a big, cold steak to bring down swelling. There’s nothing magical about putting meat on an injury, however – the practice probably began when frozen meats were the only cold objects handy. But avoid the beef on your next bruise: putting a steak on an injury can actually be dangerous. Bacteria within meat have the potential to cause infection.


Raise it Up

When an athlete plays with wild abandon, he’s often said to be playing with heart. He’s also asking for a significant set of bruises, which require elevation above the heart. Let’s say the latest bruise in your collection is a nasty contusion on the ankle. Lifting that ankle above the heart – say, on a large couch pillow – will decrease the flow of blood to that elevated bump. If you can prevent blood from gathering at the site of the bruise then you can minimize the size and discoloration of the bruise itself. Naturally, there are some limitations to this approach. It works great for the ankle, knee, arm or other appendage but if your bruise is on, say the ribs, there’s nothing you can do to elevate it above the heart. You’ll need to focus on one of the other treatment methods.


Give it a Rest

Notice the trend, yet? Reducing blood flow to the spot of the injury is a key to effective treatment. Blood flow increases to areas it’s needed. If you aren't working the muscles near the cause of the contusion then blood will flow elsewhere. In short, it’s time to give it a rest. The added benefit of taking some much-needed rest and relaxation is that you can’t bump, strain, scratch or rub the inflamed area again. The only thing worse than bruising yourself in the first place is smacking the same spot again. It’s not insult to injury – it’s further injury.


Put on the Pressure

The same principle that applies to treatment of a cut also works for bruises – if you can put pressure on the area you can staunch the flow of blood. Don’t overdo this approach. If you’re experiencing pain with the pressure, then back it off a bit.

There’s nothing that says that each treatment method has to be used by itself. You can incorporate multiple approaches at the same time. Use an Ace bandage to squeeze an ice pack against the injury while keeping it elevated on the couch. Treatment can actually be quite enjoyable if you think about it.


Head for the Medicine Cabinet

If that bruise of yours is creating more pain than you care to deal with, then Tylenol or Excedrin may be just what you need. What we’re really talking about is acetaminophen, which is not the same thing as aspirin. There’s an important distinction. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever but, unlike aspirin, it won’t thin the blood. Blood thinning medications of any kind actually increase the likelihood of bruising. It’s more difficult for your blood to clot and more blood will leak out of those damaged capillaries, creating an even larger bruise.

Bumps and bruises and a part of living in an unpredictable world, but prompt and effective treatment will help you look and feel better quickly.