Bruises are extremely common, from those that appear mysteriously to a painful bump. But what exactly is a bruise? How can you speed up the healing and reduce the pain? And what should you do if you are worried about an unexplained bruise? We have all the answers.

What is a bruise?

You've taken a bump, blow or knock that was hard enough to damage small blood vessels under your skin. Blood leaks out of these blood vessels, called capillaries, and seeps into the surrounding tissue.  For a while you see the traditional black-and-blue colours, which are the trademark of most bruises. As the pooled blood gradually breaks down, the colours take on a full palette of hues, from purple to green and yellow.

Normally, bruises fade in 10 to 14 days without any treatment, but there are ways to reduce the pain and speed up healing.

 

How to treat and remedy a bruise?

First, you want to reduce bloodflow to the area with ice and compression to minimise discolouration. Next, use heat to boost circulation and help to clear away the pooled blood. At the same time, as long as the skin isn't broken, a number of herbal ointments and compresses can help to erase any evidence of bruising.
 

Immediate treatment for bruises

Apply ice as soon as possible. Use a flexible gel-filled icepack, a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, or soak a face washer in ice-cold water and lay it over the bruise for 10 minutes. Whatever chilling agent you use, take it off after 10 minutes and wait for 20 minutes or so before you reapply.

It helps to have an icepack handy. To prepare one in advance, fill a resealable plastic bag with 6 parts water to 1 part surgical spirit. Zip it shut and put it in a container in the freezer. Overnight it forms a slushy ice that will conform to any body part. Keep it zip side up to minimise leakage.

Reduce bloodflow to the bruise to minimise discolouration. If you bruise your leg, for instance, try to take a break and settle into a sofa or armchair with your leg up on a pillow, above heart level. If your arm is bruised, try to keep it propped up above heart level whenever you're sitting.

Top Tip: If you immediately wrap an elastic bandage around the bruised area, the bruise won’t be quite as severe.
 

Heat your bruise

After 24 hours, it's safe to apply heat to bring more circulation to the bruise and start to clear away the pooled blood. Try placing an electric heating pad, warm compress or hot-water bottle on top of the area for 20 minutes several times a day. (Caution: Make sure you follow the instructions on the heating pad).

A warm compress of comfrey can also offer comfort. Comfrey contains compounds that reduce swelling and promote the rapid growth of new cells. Make a warm herbal solution by pouring 300ml of boiling water over 30g dried comfrey leaves or 60g fresh leaves. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. This is for external use only – do not drink the solution. Soak a gauze pad or a face washer in the comfrey solution and apply it to the bruise for an hour. (Caution: Do not use on broken skin or if you have an open wound.)

Vinegar mixed with warm water may help the healing process. Vinegar increases blood flow near the skin's surface, so it may help to dissipate the blood that has pooled in the bruise area. Witch hazel will also do the trick.
 

Cream for bruises

Arnica is a herb that has long been recommended for bruises. It contains a compound that reduces inflammation and swelling. Apply arnica ointment or gel to the bruise daily. (Caution: Do not apply arnica to areas of broken skin.)

Hirudoid ointment, available from pharmacies, has been used as a healing agent for decades. It's able to penetrate the skin's layers, improve blood flow to the area, reduce swelling and inflammation, and also speed up the absorption of a bruise.

Some experts believe parsley aids the healing process. Take a handful of fresh parsley leaves, crush them and spread them over the bruise. Wrap the area with an elastic bandage.

Gently rub St John's wort oil into the bruise. St John's wort is often taken as a capsule or tea for mild depression but the oil has long been known as a wound healer. It's rich in tannins–astringents that help shrink tissue and also control capillary bleeding. For the best effect, start this treatment soon after the bruise occurs, and repeat it 3 times a day.

 
Supplements to treat bruises

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, actually ‘digests’ proteins involved in causing inflammation and inducing pain. It is recommended that you take up to 500mg of bromelain daily between meals until the bruise has faded.

Try a homeopathic version of arnica. As soon as you sustain a bruise, start taking one dose of arnica every 4 hours. Take 4 doses the first day, then reduce the dosage to 2 or 3 pills a day as the bruise fades.
 

How to prevent a bruise

If you bruise too easily, you may be deficient in vitamin C, which you can get from capsicums and citrus fruit, or take up to 1000mg a day in divided doses.

Increase your intake of flavonoids by eating more carrots, apricots and citrus fruits. These help vitamin C to work more efficiently in the body. Grape-seed extract is also a rich supplier of flavonoids. Take up to 100mg a day.

You may also be deficient in vitamin K, found in kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts and leafy green vegetables, as well as from multivitamin supplements (taken with meals to enhance absorption).

Check your medications. Certain drugs (e.g. antidepressants, anti-inflammatories and aspirin) may make you bruise more easily. If this is the case, consult your doctor.

Aspirin thins the blood, which means it can pool more easily under the skin and intensify the characteristic black-and-blue effect. The same applies to ibuprofen. Instead, take paracetamol as pain relief for a bruise. If you think you bruise too easily, and you take aspirin regularly (to reduce your risk of heart attack, for example), then discuss the problem with your doctor, but don't stop taking the aspirin unless you're advised to.

 

UNEXPLAINED BRUISES

If your bruises appear mysteriously–that is, in places that you haven't been injured–see your doctor. Sometimes bruises are a warning sign of a more serious condition. Also consult your doctor if you bruise a joint and it leads to swelling, if a bruise doesn't fade after a week, if the bruise is accompanied by severe pain or fever, or if you sustain a bruise on the side of your head over your ear (this area fractures easily).

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