When someone hits you -- or you bump into something hard -- it can break the small blood vessels beneath your skin. That’s where a bruise forms. This happens because the blood leaks out and has nowhere else to go. It stays there until your body absorbs it while you’re healing.
Once you’re bruised, you’ll have that telltale black-and-blue mark on your skin for up to 2 weeks. The bruise should change colors as it heals. You may also have some pain and swelling. It will hurt most in the first few days after your injury.
When you’re bruised, there are simple things you can do to try to help the healing process along. Here are some tips that may help your bruise go away more quickly.
Put ice on your bruise right after you get injured. That can reduce the size of your bruise, which may allow it to heal faster. The cold temperature from an ice pack makes the blood in that area flow more slowly. It may reduce the amount of blood that leaks out of your vessels.
Don’t put ice directly on your bruise. Protect your skin by wrapping the ice in a washcloth or paper towel. Take the ice off after about 10 minutes. Leaving it on too long could harm your skin. It’s OK to put ice on your bruise several times a day, as long as you take a break after every time you do it.
Peas, yes. Steak, no. You may have seen people in old movies or cartoons putting raw steaks on their bruises -- especially on black eyes. Don’t do this yourself. It’s not safe to handle raw meat or place it against your eye or another body part, since it may be loaded with bacteria. Steaks and other raw meats don’t have special healing powers that can help a bruise. Raw meat tends to be cold, so that’s why it may have been used to soothe sore spots in decades past. If you don’t have any ice in your freezer, reach for a bag of frozen peas instead of a steak. Place the whole bag of veggies on your bruise for 10 minutes at a time to ease the pain, just like you would with ice.
Heat boosts blood flow, and that can help clear up a bruise. Wait until 48 hours after the bruise appeared, then put a heating pad or warm compress on it several times a day. You also might soak in a hot bath to ease pain and loosen up your muscles.
Stop what you’re doing when you get hurt. That can keep the bruise from getting worse. If you get kicked during a soccer game, get off the field. Get off your feet. This slows down the blood flow to your bruise. That should keep it from becoming worse than if you kept running around.
You may want to massage the sore spot when you’re resting, but it’s a bad idea. That can make the injured spot worse. You may break more blood vessels under the skin and make the bruised area larger.
After you’re injured, it helps if you raise it above the level of your heart. This trick uses gravity to help keep your bruise as small as can be. When the sore spot is below the level of your heart, the blood there pools more easily, which can make the bruise larger. But when the sore spot is lifted above your heart, more blood will flow back to your heart.
For best results, combine steps: Rest the bruise and raise it above the level of your heart.
Compression is when you put pressure on the injured area. It can help ease any swelling caused by the bruise. It’s best to use an elastic bandage and wrap the area firmly but not too tight.
Your pain should begin to subside about 3 days after you were bruised. In the meantime, if the bruise really hurts or is swollen, you can take over-the-counter drugs to relieve your pain. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen can be used, though there is a slight increase in bleeding especially in elderly patients or in those already on a blood thinner.
A few natural substances may help get rid of a bruise more quickly, including:
- Arnica: This cream made with this flower may help lessen the effects of a bruise.
- Bromelain: A group of enzymes found in the pineapple, may help make a bruise go away faster.
- Aloe vera: This plant has vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that soothe and moisturize the skin. It’s used to treat many types of skin conditions, including bruises.
- Vitamin K: Studies have shown that phytonadione, or vitamin K1, can speed up the healing of bruising.