Bruises: Types and treatments

It happens to all of us – you look down at your shin and see a big bruise, but have no idea how it got there. Bruising is one of the most common injuries to the skin. Usually, it’s not a big deal. The bruise fades after a few days, and the tenderness is gone.

Bruises, or muscle contusions, occur when you bump into something (or something bumps into you). When this happens, your muscle fibers and connective tissue are crushed, but the skin doesn’t break. Blood from the ruptured capillaries leaks under the skin, causing the purple or red bruise color and causing the area to feel tender.

Read on to learn more about bruises and bumps and how to keep your family safe.

Types of bruises

Did you know that bruises are categorized like burns? They can be described as first, second, or third degree, depending on how bad they are.

First degree

First degree bruises are nothing to worry about. They're minor, and there’s usually no loss of function and minimal swelling and pain. These are the types of bruises that typically go away within a few days, and you often wonder how you got them in the first place.

Second degree

Second degree bruises are more severe. They are usually darker, and there is more pain, tenderness, and swelling around the bruise. There usually isn’t much loss of movement, although if the bruise is on a joint (for example, the knee), it may be uncomfortable as the joint moves.

Third degree

Third degree bruises are severe. There will be major swelling, pain, and instability around the bruise. With bruises this severe, you’ll want to treat the bruise with care.

Can’t bad bruises cause blood clots?

The bruise itself won’t cause a blood clot. In very rare circumstances, the hit that caused the bruise can. If a deep-seated vein is damaged during the collision, it could lead to a deep-vein clot. This is called deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).

While it’s incredibly rare, when it does occur, it’s often in the calves. If you have a severe bruise and major pain and swelling, it wouldn’t hurt to see a doctor to check.

Caring for bruises

So if you bump into something or take a hit that you think will bruise, what can you do to lessen the swelling and pain? Follow the RICE protocol – rest, ice, compression, and elevation.


Keep the area still. This slows blood flow to the area and will prevent further damage.


Ice will help reduce swelling, pain, and bleeding. The best thing to use is a gel ice pack, but if you don’t have one, ice in a plastic bag or a pack of frozen vegetables will work. It’s important to remember not to apply the ice directly to the skin; wrapping it in a damp towel is best. If you don’t have access to ice, cold water is better than nothing.

Keep the ice on for around ten minutes and then reapply it every two hours for the first one to two days. Make sure you remove the ice before ten minutes if the skin feels like it is burning.


Compression gives support to the injured area and helps to reduce swelling. A firm elastic compression bandage will work.


Raising the injured area above the heart will help reduce bleeding and swelling. If the injury is on a leg for example, prop the leg up with pillows.

Resuming activity

Should you resume activity after a bad bruise? After one to two days, it’s generally safe to resume activity, providing it doesn’t cause pain to the injury. Walking around and staying active will promote healing.

Bruising in children

With little ones are running around or playing near furniture, it’s important to remove any dangerous obstacles. Sharp corners, decor that could easily fall, and rugs that they may trip on should be addressed.

If a child does fall and get a bad bruise, the RICE protocol should still be followed. Children can be especially sensitive to cold on their skin; a cold spoon on their skin can sometimes be the best thing. And there’s less mess.

Make sure you’ve taught your child to accurately describe their pain level; we discuss this in our first aid blog.

Bruising in the elderly

Elderly people are especially prone to bruising, and it takes less force to create a bruise. This is because the skin's ability to repair itself diminishes and blood vessels become more fragile.

It’s worth considering the installation of handrails where needed and making sure that furniture is arranged in a way that it doesn’t create obstacles.

Conditions that cause excessive bruising

Some people have health conditions that can cause severe bruising. If you feel that you’re always bruised and often can’t remember the bump or hit that caused it, there may be an underlying issue.

People with blood disorders, like hemophilia and leukemia, often experience unexplained bruising, along with diabetics. Certain medications can cause you to bruise more easily. Those with excessive sun damage can bruise more easily than others as the skin's pliability and resilience is reduced. Excessive strain during exercise or manual labor is also increases the likelihood of bruising.

How Reynolds can help

If a bruise is causing severe pain and limiting mobility, we recommend visiting Reynolds Rapid Care. And of course, if the accident is a severe collision to the head, you should seek immediate medical attention.

For acute or non-emergent needs, visit Reynolds Rapid Care, located at 215 Lafayette Avenue in Moundsville.

Rapid Care is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m to 4 p.m. on weekends. No appointments are necessary, and your co-pay is the same as at your primary care provider’s office.

For emergencies, our emergency room is at 800 Wheeling Avenue in Glen Dale and is always open.