How to Treat a Bruise

Fast action may speed healing

Girl with a bruised knee

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A bruise is an area of discoloration that develops when tiny vessels under the skin rupture, allowing blood to collect into the surrounding tissue (think of it like your skin is bleeding on the inside). When caused by minor injuries or accidents—you bumped into the bed or got hit by a ball—bruises usually disappear on their own after a few weeks. But with the right self-care, you can ease pain and swelling and help speed the healing process.

R.I.C.E. to the Rescue 

The best way to treat a bruise is to employ R.I.C.E., which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Begin as soon as the injury happens and continue for 24 to 48 hours. 

Rest: Give the bruise time to recover by not overworking your muscles in the injured area.

Ice: Ice the bruise with an ice pack wrapped in a towel for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If left in place too long, it's possible to get frostbite from an ice pack. Cold cuts down on swelling and inflammation by constricting the blood vessels, as well as provides short-term pain relief. 

Compression: If the bruised area swells, compress it with an elastic bandage but don't wrap it too tight. Don't wrap elastic bandages too tightly. The idea is just to discourage swelling, not to block blood flow altogether.

Elevation: As much as possible, keep the bruised area raised above the heart. This helps prevent blood from pooling in the affected tissue and allows excess blood to drain faster.

Bruises often feel tender at first, and over-the-counter pain meds like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen—taken orally or used topically, as an ointment—can ease discomfort. 

Treatment After Day Two

Once the acute period has passed, switch from ice to a heat pack or cloth soaked in warm water. This will stimulate circulation to help clear away any trapped blood. Apply it to the injured area several times a day for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Continue to elevate the injury when convenient, but stop applying compression—it's probably no longer helpful.

Tips 

  • These steps are the most common suggestions by physicians to treat minor bruises, but there's very little research on bruise treatment. In most cases, you could also do absolutely nothing and the bruise will heal just fine.
  • If you seem to bruise more easily than others your age and gender, you may want to see your doctor. Excessive bruising can be a symptom of anemia, a medical condition caused by a lack of iron in the blood. To keep your iron levels up, eat more animal protein (lean beef, oysters, chicken, and turkey are good options) and plenty of green, leafy veggies like spinach.
  • Considering arnica? Research is mixed, with most studies showing that taking homeopathic arnica by mouth or applying arnica to the skin doesn't reduce bruising. 
  • Consult your doctor if you're still experiencing pain three days after a seemingly minor injury. 
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View Article Sources
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Foods to fight iron deficiency. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/iron-deficiency.

    Cleveland Clinic. Bruises. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15235-bruises.

    MedlinePlus. Arnica. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/721.html.