Why do we bruise?
Posted on 14th June 2023 at 07:40
It’s been a while since we’ve answered one of those – not as simple as you’d think – questions, which people love to ask us.
It concerns one of the most common injuries and one we’ve all experienced from time to time, for a whole host of different reasons. Most often, from simply bumping or “catching” ourselves as we go about our day. Sometimes alongside more potentially serious injuries, such broken bones or torn ligaments. Ranging from a slight tenderness to a multi coloured delight – particularly as they wear off. And not forgetting the stories of exactly how they happened, with David having heard more than his fair share of “Was that really a good idea at the time?” stories over the years!
So, what are we talking about this week?
Let’s start with the obvious question.
What causes a bruise – or contusion, if you’d like the proper term?
The simple answer is any traumatic injury such as a fall or blow. This ruptures the small blood vessels – Capillaries – found just under the Skin’s surface and blood then leaks out into the surrounding tissues. After an initial feeling of tenderness, the area turns a reddish purple colour before moving on to the telltale “black and blue” bruise.
Why all the different colours?
Well, the colour is simply an indication of how recent the injury was AND its severity.
Bruises start with a bright reddish or purple colour as the blood is “fresh” from the Capillary and contains bright red blood cells. As the body starts to repair the damaged Capillary, blood stops leaking into the surrounding tissues and, what is already there, turns brown before being broken down and reabsorbed.
Depending on the amount of damage, the bruised area may just look a little red and then return to normal. Alternatively, it may go through the full range of colours, as the blood is reabsorbed and damage repaired. Red, purple, green, yellow and brown. Sometimes the area may remain a little swollen or tender even after the skin colour has returned to normal, particularly if there has also been damage to surrounding tissues.
The time taken for this process to occur varies depending on the severity of the damage and the person’s overall health. So, it may take a few days for the skin to return to its normal colour – or several weeks where there was a more serious injury or ill health.
Why do some people seem to bruise more easily than others?
Again, there are many different reasons why some people seem to bruise at the slightest touch and others get away with it scot-free.
Family History and genetics although, as always, this isn’t guaranteed.
Pale skin. While having pale skin doesn’t make you more prone to bruising, it does mean that even the smallest bruise is more visible than on those with a darker skin.
Sun damage, from excessive sun exposure or bad burning. Not only does this damage the skin surface, but also the deeper cells below. In effect these cells have been scarred by the damage. As a result, the skin becomes less pliable and resilient, making it more prone to bruising in these areas. Bruising also becomes more noticeable, so making the smallest bruise much more visible.
Your age. Sorry, but it’s true! As you age, the skin loses some of its protective fatty layer which provides cushioning against bumps and falls. This is one of the reasons for that less than taut skin and lovely “bat wings” (!) some people develop as they get older. At the same time, the outer layer of skin becomes thinner. These both mean that it takes much less force to bruise than when you were younger.
Over training – or straining – during exercise can put muscles under excessive pressure, leading to minute tears in the muscle fibres as well as damage to the surrounding tissues and Capillaries. High intensity activities such as weight lifting are known for this, as well as high contact sports such as rugby.
Blood disorders, particularly those affecting blood clotting, can lead to more frequent and potentially serious bruising. These include Haemophilia, Leukemia and Purpuric Dermatosis. The latter is usually found in the elderly and causes many tiny bruises, particularly around the shins.
Diabetes can cause darker areas of skin to develop, which look very like bruises. However, they’re actually caused by the underlying insulin resistance, rather than trauma.
Some medications are also known to weaken blood vessel walls, affect clotting or thin the skin; all of which can increase the likelihood of bruises. These include steroids, anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications as well as over the counter products such as Aspirin.
What can you do at home to help?
As always, a little commonsense goes a long way. If you start bruising more easily, then it’s worth taking a look at what may be causing this.
Perhaps it’s simply “one of those things” – or a gentle reminder that you’re rushing around much more than usual or paying less attention to what you’re doing (!).
Perhaps it’s a warning of other health changes or something else going on. If so, it may be time to take a closer look and / or little advice.
Diet plays an important part in providing the nutrients needed for your Capillaries to remain strong and flexible. In particular, bioflavonoids found in fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly darker coloured berries and leafy greens.
There are also a number of specific supplements that can help. The two best known are:
Rutin, a bioflavonoid, which helps strengthen blood vessel walls. For this reason, it’s also used for Varicose Veins and Haemorrhoids, as well as a tendency to bruising.
Vitamin C, with a low intake being linked to easier bruising.
Interestingly, studies in America have found that giving these two supplements together produces the best results. For example, in one study they helped clear cases of chronic – long term – Purpuric Dermatosis in less than a month, as well as reducing overall tendency to bruising.
One other Vitamin is worth mentioning, although used as a cream, rather than being taken internally. Vitamin K.
Arnica, whether as a homeopathic remedy or as a cream or lotion, is well known for helping with bruises. If used very quickly after the injury, it can prevent bruises from forming. Used later, it usually speeds up the healing process, bringing any bruising out much more quickly – which can be a little alarming (!) – but allowing it to clear more quickly too.
Aloe vera gel is soothing and cooling, so perfect for bruises.
A cold compress works in a similar way, as well as reducing any inflammation.
If you’d prefer a more traditional approach, here are two – although we should say we haven’t tried either of the (!). Cabbage leaves, quickly blanched in hot water, cooled and then applied to the area. An onion, cut in half and rubbed over the bruise. Try them if you dare!
So, there you are, another question answered!
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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