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Effective ways to manage bruising

The common bruise, known medically as a contusion, is a type of haematoma in which blood capillaries are damages. This damage allows blood to seep into the surrounding tissues, resulting in discolouration of the skin and underlying tissue over time.

The injury, always caused by internal bleeding, is usually the result of blunt trauma resulting in deceleration forces and physical compression. Bruising may also occur as the result of surgery.

Initial treatment

Initial treatment for bruising includes the application of ice and the application of compression to manage inflammation (as well as offering pain relieving qualities), resting of the affected area (as the body needs time to heal), and where possible, elevating the affected body part (to reduce blood flow to the affected area and with it inflammation). This is also referred to as the RICE principles in following Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

Pain can be treated with paracetamol, but any painkiller which thins the blood (ibuprofen or aspirin based medications) should be avoided, as they can actually prolong bleeding.

Bruising can hide other injuries, and although most bruising will disappear in time of its own accord, medical attention may be required in some cases. Bruising accompanied by extreme swelling or pain, may need to be investigated further, especially if the patient is taking blood-thinning medication. Bruises which appear for no apparent reason and any bruising to the face or head should be checked by a doctor.

If the bruising is accompanied by an immovable joint may be an indication of a broken bone or torn ligament so may require immediate medical attention.

Swollen ankle showing bruising and the application of an ice pack

Following initial treatment a relevant support may be worn which can offer compression, stability of the joint or a combination of the two. You should obtain diagnosis prior to purchasing a brace to ensure that you select the right one.

Using ice to manage inflammation

Ice is a useful treatment for bruising in the first 24-48 hours.

It should be applied for about 15 minutes with a dishcloth or towel between the ice and skin. Ice should never be applied directly to the skin (to prevent ice burn), and bags of frozen vegetables can be used if no ice pack is available.

A heat pack or cloth which has been soaked in hot water can be applied two days after the appearance of the bruise.

Don't apply heat in the beginning, as this will increase blood flow to the area, and prolong bleeding.

Any pain or tenderness should disappear within a few days, and the discolouration should gradually diminish.

An infographic showing the difference between applying ice and heat following an injury

How a healthy diet can help

Eating foods rich in Vitamin C and flavinoids may speed up the healing process. These nutrients help in the regeneration of collagen, and rebuilding of the blood vessels. Citrus fruits, peppers, prunes, leafy vegetables and pineapple are good sources.

The application of arnica and aloe vera may also help with the healing process. These plant gels help to dilate the blood vessels and carry damaged cells away from the bruised area. These products should not be used in the initial 24 hours.

Remember, bruising can simply be the result of a minor application of pressure to soft tissue, and will often disappear without any treatment at all. In some cases, however, bruising can indicate a more serious injury.

Seek medical attention if there is anything uncharacteristic or unusual about your bruising.