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The colors and phases of bruising

We all get bruises. Sometimes we know where they come from and sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve gotten them. So what is a bruise and what do the phases of colors they go through mean?

The most common type of bruise involves an injury to the small blood vessels below the skin’s surface. Blood pools below the skin and you are able to see the color of that blood showing through the skin. You can also get bruises to bones, muscles, etc. in the case of deeper injuries or surgeries. Most bruises will heal within 2 weeks although some may take longer depending on the size.

What is the rainbow of colors the bruise will go through?

Initially a bruise will appear red because it is made up of fresh, oxygen-rich blood.

​After 1-2 days a bruise will usually appear purple, blue, or black as the blood loses oxygen.

​In 5-10 days, the body begins to break down hemoglobin and clean up the bruise. As it does so, it creates compounds called biliverdin and bilirubin which make the bruise appear yellow or green.

​After 10-14 days, the bruise will turn brown and begin to fade away.

How can you treat a bruise?

Initially after injury, you can apply ice to the area (15 minutes at a time with at least 15 minutes in between sessions). This will slow bleeding under the skin and can potentially reduce the overall size of the bruise.

You can elevate the body part above your heart to help move fluid out of the area and avoid pooling.

After the first 2-3 days, you can gently massage the affected area to encourage blood flow. Gentle movement of the affected body part can also encourage blood flow and healing. If the bruise is painful, taking an over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or Advil can help relieve symptoms.

When should you seek out medical attention associated with a bruise?

  • If it affects the function of the related body part

  • If it worsens rather than healing within the first 2 weeks

  • If the bruise is significant and has no identifiable cause

  • If there is a suspected fracture

  • If the size of the bruise increases notably

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