IT’S A WEEK BEFORE a black-tie gala or a vacation in the Caribbean. You’ve worked hard to achieve buff arms and toned legs for the sleeveless sheaths and bathing suits you plan to wear. Then it happens: your friend trips on the gym stairs and grabs, really grabs, your bicep for support or you unwittingly bump your thigh moving a piece of furniture. How much of a bruise will erupt? How much of the damage can you offset?
A bruise, or contusion, occurs when a sudden blow or intense pressure breaks the small blood vessels beneath the skin, but not the skin itself. The capillaries leak, and blood builds up in the soft tissue. (In general, women bruise more than men, because they have more beneath-the-skin fat.) During the first day of a bruise, the area usually turns the reddish color of blood; by the end of day one or day two, iron in the blood begins to turn the bruise blue or purple; slowly it can turn green and then yellow, but often fail to completely disappear for two to three weeks.
To do ASAP: RICE, especially Ice–for as long as you can stand it up to 20 minutes every few hours for the first few days, using bags of ice or frozen peas, or ice packs . Elevate: to reduce swelling and constrict the blood vessels with the goal of discouraging blood flow to the site, which causes discoloration. Rest, if possible; mostly avoid strenuous exercise that increases the amount of blood pumping through the body, which can get trapped at the bruise site. And Compress, using anything like an Ace bandage, but don’t wrap too tightly.
For the first 48 hours, avoid anything hot like hot showers, as well as alcoholic beverages, that might cause swelling. After that, heat can help blood flow to the area to speed healing.
Expose the bruise to UV radiation in direct sunlight, at least 10 to 15 minutes a day over the next few days to speed the breakdown of bilirubin, which causes the bruise to yellow. And massage, though not if it causes pain. Rub the outer edge of the bruise with your thumb gently, using small circular motions to spur the body’s lymph system to begin dissipating the bruise.
To increase blood flowing to the skin’s surface to help heal the bruise, add witch hazel or vinegar mixed with warm water; cayenne pepper in Vaseline or crushed ginger mixed and spread over the bruised area for several hours and then removed, once a day until the bruise is gone.
Also, consume ginger, chopped up in warm water or capsules, and parsley–both have anti-inflammatory properties that help support the immune system. And, pineapple and papaya, which contain an enzyme that helps prevent the trapping of blood and fluids in the tissues.
Apply and/or consume Vitamin C–in food like oranges, broccoli and peppers, as well as supplements. Crush the pills and mix with water to create a paste: (as above) rub on, allow to dry, remove.
Take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as Advil or Motrin, Aleve or Tylenol (not aspirin), which block inflammation-causing chemicals when taken at prescription doses. For Aleve, that’s two tablets twice a day. The effect of each drug is basically the same, although they work differently and an individual can often get better results with one than with the others.
And then there’s arnica, on the tips of many tongues at the sight of a bruise. Derived from a European mountain daisy, arnica is believed by many to reduce swelling and decrease pain, but its most common and traditional use is for treating bruises — by mobilizing white blood cells to the site to begin healing. In pill form, arnica is a homeopathic remedy and thus extremely diluted. A 2014 report in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine said its only activity was a placebo effect. Consumed in large quantities, however, it can be toxic.
Arnica as an ingredient in a large variety of gels, creams, ointments and massage oils is used by thousands of physicians and celebrities, as well as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. Following a ski accident, Diane von Furstenberg tweeted: “Arnica gel is the best thing you can do for bruises,” according to the New York Times. Arnica’s beneficial effects, however, may also be traced to the massage involved in rubbing it onto the skin.
(If there is a sensation of extreme pressure around a bruise or failure to heal in about two weeks, consult a physician.)