A bruise or contusion is a common form of skin injury that occurs when tiny blood vessels (capillaries) under the skin break and start leaking. Blood from the damaged capillaries collects near the surface of the skin to form a bruise, which appears as a discoloration of the skin.
Bruises take on different sizes, appear in different colors (red, black, purple, blue, etc.), and vary in degrees of pain depending on what triggered the bruising. Some are large, swollen, and painful while others appear with very little pain that they might go unnoticed. The bruised area may also be sensitive to touch.
Since bruises are a common occurrence in both the young and old, it’s important to know the causes and treatment options. In the event of bruising on your skin, this information will help you determine if your condition requires emergency medical treatment or can be treated with simple home remedies.
The most common cause of bruising is blunt trauma to the skin. This can happen when you fall and hit the ground hard, accidentally bump into something, or when something hits you with substantial force. Regardless of the cause, trauma to the skin should be significant enough to crash blood vessels but not high enough to cause the skin to break open.
Other causes of bruising include:
Regular Vigorous Exercise
When muscles are placed under stress during exercise, they develop a series of tiny tears, which eventually heal making the muscles stronger and larger. However, with regular vigorous exercise, the microscopic tears may fail to heal and cause bruises.
Similarly, participating in very intense exercise (e.g. very heavy weight lifting) can cause enough traumas to muscle fibers to cause small amounts of blood to be released into nearby tissue. This usually results in a deeper form of bruising referred to as “intramuscular bruising”.
In some cases, bruises appear for no apparent reason. For some, it may be a simple case of bumping into a doorframe, bedpost, or other object without noticing and failing to recall the injury. For others, it may be due to age or certain medications. Sometimes a bleeding disorder may cause frequent bruising, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
A deficiency of vitamin C in the body puts one at a higher risk of developing contusions.
Sometimes, bruising can be hereditary where a tendency to bruise easily runs in families.
Home Remedies and Treatment Options
Unless the injury sustained is really bad or there’s an underlying condition that triggered the bruising, contusions gradually fade and eventually disappear with time, even if no treatment is applied. However, this usually takes several days (sometimes weeks) in which you will have to put up with the unsightly look of the bruise and pain. Luckily, there are a few things that can be done to speed up healing and get you some relief from the pain.
Immediate Treatment for the Contusion
The treatment for a contusion is highly effective right after injury, which is why you should start administering treatment the moment you notice the reddish mark of a fresh bruise or as soon as you receive an injury that is guaranteed to cause bruising.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what steps to take.
Step 1- Apply Ice
The very first thing you should do when you notice a bruise is to place a bag of frozen vegetables or an ice pack directly on the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes. The cold will cool the blood vessels around the bruised area and thus stop more blood from flowing into the surrounding tissue. With the blood flow stopped, the bruise will be prevented from spreading far.
For best results, ice the contusion 2 to 3 times a day after injury. If you cannot access something cold, tightly tie a bandage over the bruise. The pressure from the bandage will deliver the same blood flow reduction effects as a cold compress.
Step 2- Elevate bruised area
The last thing you want happening in a bruised area is increased blood flow as that leads to an increase in the size of the contusion. Since gravity has a pulling effect, elevating the bruised area to a position above your heart is an effective trick that will allow you to prevent more blood from leaking through the damaged capillaries.
For as long as the bruised area remains at an elevated position, there will be a reduction in blood flow to the area because more blood will flow back to the heart.
Step 3- Rest bruised the area
Whenever muscles are put to work, an increase in blood flow to the area surrounding the muscle is experienced. So, make it a point of resting the affected area for at least a day or 2 to prevent further bruising and increase chances of healing.
Step 4- Apply heat
After 48 hours of icing, elevating, and resting the bruised area, it’s time to turn up the heat. Apply a warm washcloth or heat pack to the contusion for at least 10 minutes, 2 tp 3 times a day. This is a crucial step to speeding up the healing process as it gets the trapped blood under the bruise moving thus allowing the skin to reabsorb it quickly.
When looking to get rid of bruises fast, the following ingredients (most of which are perhaps already in your kitchen) will prove to be very useful.
Vitamin C is one of the most effective treatment options for bruises as it helps cure the problem as well as alleviates some symptoms of the bruise. This nutrient reduces inflammation, making the bruise more bearable. It also speeds up healing by rejuvenating the skin’s elasticity and strengthening the capillaries.
Getting the nutrient into your system can be done by adding Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables in your diet or buying vitamin supplements.
If you choose to go the supplement route, 200mg of vitamin C supplements daily are enough for bruise treatment purposes.
Vitamin K is another effective remedy of treating bruises. It treats issues of blood clotting and repairs tissue damage in the body. The contusion-healing benefits of Vitamin K can be received by eating Vitamin K rich foods or supplements of the vitamin. Alternatively, you can buy Vitamin K cream from a trusted source and apply it onto the contusion daily.
As it turns out, parsley leaves can be used for more than adding a vibrant taste to our food. Featuring vitamin C and K components, parsley leaves offer an all-rounded treatment solution for bruises. These leaves, decrease inflammation, reduce pain, and strengthen capillaries.
To heal bruises with this herb, crush fresh parsley leaves and spread them over the bruised area. Tightly wrap a piece of cloth over the bruised area or place a bandage to allow the skin to absorb the nutrients of the crushed parsley leaves.
Arnica is an herb that’s highly recommended for relieving pain and treating a variety of injuries ranging from sprains to contusions. The herb has compounds that reduce inflammation. As a result, it offers great relief for bruises. You can apply arnica ointment or gel to the bruise daily or try a homeopathic version of the herb.
When it comes to skin care, Aloe Vera is one of the highly recommended and most used compounds due to its healing and soothing properties. So, it should come as no surprise that Aloe Vera is a great remedy for treating bruises.
Aside from having anti-inflammatory properties that soothe pain and reduce swelling in bruises, Aloe Vera contains lots of enzymes that speed up the healing process. This plant also throws in the added benefit of sealing off the bruised area – an act that prevents bacteria from getting in.
Applying freshly squeezed Aloe Vera gel directly onto the bruise daily and leaving it on for at least 30 minutes is enough to deliver the healing and anti-inflammation properties of the plant.
When dealing with a nasty bruise, eating pineapple or drinking the fruit’s juice daily can really help cure the contusion fast. This fruit contains an enzyme called bromelain, which has anti-inflammatory effects that sooth irritation on bruised areas. Additionally, when ingested, a pineapple will disperse all blood clots that have formed around the bruised area and prevent more blood clot formations. This helps to prevent the contusion from getting worse and jump-starts the healing process.
Applying the juice or inner part of an onion onto a bruised area will help to reduce the symptoms of the bruise as well as assist the body to heal the contusion. This is thanks to the inflammatory properties of onions and the compound allicin found in onions. This compound stimulates the lymphatic system, which in turn prevents excess blood from collecting under the skin.
Vinegar has the ability to drive away the blood that has gathered under the bruise. It does this by breaking out the blood cells clogged under the bruised area.
To use this home remedy option, simply mix equal amounts of warm water and vinegar and apply the solution on the affected area.
When the pain from a bruise is too much, you can take pain-relieving drugs to make your condition more bearable. However, you should be very selective about the pain relievers you take. This is because some options like aspirin and ibuprofen thin blood and will therefore worsen the bruise. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you find safe options.
In most cases, bruises are hard to avoid. Therefore, you can expect to get a few bruises in your lifetime. However, with just a few precautionary measures, you can prevent contusions in some instances and thereby save yourself from days of aches and pains.
For one, you should try being more attentive to your surroundings. By doing so, you’ll be able to avoid the 3 most common causes of bruising: falling, bumping into something, and getting hit by something.
Other steps that can be taken to avoid bruises include:
- Wearing protective gear (pads, helmets, shin guards, etc.) when participating in sports, riding a bicycle, or engaging in any form of activity where you might bump into something or something may come hurling at you.
- Keeping furniture pieces with pointed or sharp angles away from doorframes and common walking paths in your home. If your home lacks enough space for such an arrangement, simply cover the furniture with soft, rounded corner guards.
- Scheduling regular appointments with your doctor to have him/her monitor your condition and make necessary changes to dosages when on bruise-triggering medication.
- Increasing your intake of flavonoids by eating more of citrus fruits, carrots, and apricots. Such foods ensure vitamin C works more effectively in your body.
- Avoiding situations that may lead to a fall (e.g. walking on a slippery surface or walking to the bathroom at night without any source of lighting).
Why Do Bruises Change Colors?
Have you ever wondered how doctors are able to determine the date of injury to skin after just a few seconds of examining a contusion? Well, as it turns out, it’s no rocket science. Doctors simply know the process a bruise goes through from the moment of formation to the time it finally fades away. Therefore, with a deeper understanding of bruises, anyone can pretty much guess the age of a bruise by simply looking at its color.
The clock on bruising starts ticking as soon as blood vessels get damaged in some way and rupture. Firstly, blood from the damaged vessels spreads throughout the surrounding tissue and settles under the skin after failing to find an exit point. At this point, the contusion appears as a reddish mark on the skin.
Soon after this, the body starts healing the bruise by breaking down the proteins in the blood and reabsorbing it into the body.
This usually happens in the following stages:
- 1 to 2 days after the appearance of a reddish bruise, hemoglobin in the blood is broken down at which point it loses it oxygen. This results in the contusion taking on a bluish-purple (or black) color.
- 5 to 10 days into the healing process, further breakdown of hemoglobin occurs resulting in a product called biliverdin. The formation of biliverdin causes the bruise to take on a greenish tint.
- 10 to 14 days after bruising, biliverdin is broken down into a yellow molecule called bilirubin. With this breakdown, the bruise takes on a yellow (or brown) color. Once bilirubin is formed, it dissolves into the blood stream where it is then carried off to the liver and kidneys where it undergoes final processing before being excreted from the body. With the absorption and excretion of bilirubin, all traces of the bruise disappear and the affected skin area returns to its former state.
How Long Do Bruises Last?
How long a contusion lasts depends on two main factors – the individual’s ability to heal and the site of the bruise. In the event of trauma, the impact behind the force that brought on the bruising also plays a huge role in determining the duration of the contusion. Therefore, all in all, there’s no way of being completely sure how long a bruise will last. However, the healing process of bruises is estimated to take place in 2 weeks. So, you should expect a bruise to be completely gone after 14 days or sooner if the injury was minimal or if your body heals fast.
Unexplained Easy Bruises
As much as you try to remember, you simply cannot recall bumping into anything or getting hit by something. Yet you have this unsightly contusion on your skin or seem to be bruising frequently of late. Sounds familiar? Before you start panicking, you should know that in some instances unexplained bruising is no cause for alarm. Your age, gender, diet, or the medication you are on, could be the reason behind the bruising.
Here’s a quick look at how these four factors increase your likelihood of bruising.
Due to the general makeup of the human body, some people are more prone to bruising than others. For instance, women bruise more easily than men since a woman’s skin is naturally thinner than that of a man. In addition to that, men have a thicker collagen layer and the good fortune of having blood vessels that are held more securely.
Easy bruising also occurs as a result of aging. As we grow older, our skin becomes thinner and the tissues supporting the underlying blood vessels become more fragile. For this reason, elderly people bruise easily with little impact to their skin.
Medicine is another primary cause of bruises. Certain medications can make it more likely for bruises to develop on your skin. For example, aspirin, anticoagulant medications, and anti-platelet agents slow down the process of blood clotting. So, if your blood vessels start to bleed from capillary damage, the flow of blood takes longer than usual to stop. This allows for a significant amount of blood to sip to the surrounding tissue thereby increasing chances of the capillary damage causing a bruise.
Topical and systemic corticosteroids are another form of medication that put users at risk of bruising easily. Usually prescribed for the treatment of a variety of conditions ranging from asthma to allergy outbreaks, these substance cause the skin to thin and can therefore increase your chances of bruising.
Medications aside, there are certain foods with minor blood-thinning effects that prevent blood from clotting quickly. These include, fish oil supplements, garlic, supplements and foods rich in Vitamin E, and ginger.
When To Visit Doctor
Bruising is simply the skin’s natural way of healing after experiencing trauma. However, there are some instances where bruising is a symptom of an underlying and sometimes serious condition such as a blood disease or blood clotting problems. This is why you should keep a close eye on your bruise and schedule an appointment with your doctor when you notice telltale signs indicating more trouble. Some of the instances that necessitate a visit to the doctor are when:
- The bruised area swells up and feels extremely painful
- A lump forms over the bruise
- Pain persists after 3 days of what seemed to be a minor injury
- Bruising is accompanied with heavy bleeding from other places, such as from your gums, nose, urine, or stool
- A painful bruise appears under a toe/fingernail
- You notice frequent bruising soon after starting to take some medicine
- Bruises start appearing mysteriously and frequently on your skin yet you have no history of bruising
- You get a bruise on a delicate or easy-to-fracture area (e.g. under your eye, on the side of your head, or over your ear)
- Bruising does not improve or fade after 2 weeks
Since all of us bruise at one point or another, it’s important to have a deeper understanding of how bruising happens. Hopefully, with this information you will be better equipped at preventing contusions or at the very least, dealing with them adequately when they appear.