How to Treat a Bruise

A bruise on a young girl’s knee.
A bruise on a young girl’s knee. LEA PATERSON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

A bruise, also commonly referred to as a contusion, or a hematoma, refers to an area of skin discoloration (typically black and blue) that occurs after a trauma to the soft tissue of the area. A bruise develops when small blood vessels beneath the skin rupture and blood leaks into the soft tissue beneath the skin. Contusions and bruises are common injuries in sports with a risk of collision or impact.

Bruise Classifications

  • Subcutaneous: A bruise beneath the skin
  • Intramuscular: A bruise within a muscle
  • Periosteal: A bruise to a bone

Bruises can occur suddenly and last from days to months. Bruises generally cause pain, swelling and tenderness over a black and blue area of skin discoloration. As it heals, it often changes from black and blue to green and yellow.

Mild contusion or bruises typically heal within about five days.

Best Treatment for a Bruise

The best way to treat a bruise is similar to the methods used for other soft tissue injuries. A common acronym for this treatment is R.I.C.E., which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Rest: Getting proper rest is an extremely important aspect of injury recovery, regardless of if the injury occurred to a muscle, tendon, ligament, or bone. Once injured, further activity that stresses the injured area must be stopped until the injury is allowed to recover over a period of time.

Recovery time varies based on the particular injury, but the need for rest following an injury is universal. Be sure to give your body plenty of time to recover following any injury issues.

Ice: Cold contact provides short-term pain relief to an injured area, and also works to limit swelling by reducing the overall amount of blood flow to the injured area of the body.

When applying ice to an injured area, do not apply the ice directly to the skin or body. Instead, wrap the ice in a towel or paper towel before applying. It is suggested that ice is applied to an injured area for 15-20 minutes after an injury occurs, but no longer. Then continue to apply ice to the bruise for 15 minutes, several times per day.

Compression: Compression is also important for post-injury treatment. Compression helps to reduce and limit overall swelling and can also occasionally ease pain. Wrapping an injured area in a bandage is a good way to provide consistent compression to an injured area. Compression may or may not help the bruise heal faster depending upon the location of the bruise.

Elevation: Elevating an injured area after an injury occurs can also help to control overall swelling. Elevating is most effective when the injured area of the body is raised above heart level. This helps to control blood flow to the area, and thus reduce swelling.

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