A tourniquet can be a life-saving tool in your first aid kit or knowledge base. But simply having one on hand may not be enough — you also need to understand how to use a tourniquet, otherwise your efforts may be ineffective at best.
Many people hesitate to apply a tourniquet because they aren’t sure how to use it or are afraid of making a mistake. As such, learning tourniquet best practices ahead of time will prepare you to act quickly when an emergency occurs.
Read on to learn when and how to use a tourniquet, as well as what not to do when applying one.
Tourniquets: The Basics
A tourniquet may be used to slow or stop the flow of blood when a person is at risk of life-threatening blood loss, particularly from injuries to an arm or leg. They’re also often used during surgery to restrict blood flow. But what is a tourniquet, exactly?
While there are several different types of tourniquets, they all accomplish the same task: to apply pressure around the arm or leg to prevent the person from bleeding to death. Some may be made from something as simple as a spare piece of cloth, but others can be made of materials like:
- Velcro bands or cuffs
- Rubber tubing
Most tourniquet types also include a stick or rod (called a windlass) that is used to tighten the tourniquet around the injured limb. Without a windlass, the tourniquet may not be tight enough to restrict blood flow sufficiently.
Once you know what it does and how to make one, you need to know how to use a tourniquet.
How to Use a Tourniquet
Before you apply a tourniquet, first try to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound. If that doesn’t work, then a tourniquet may be necessary.
If you’re unable to stop the bleeding through direct pressure, apply the tourniquet around the injured limb at least two to three inches above the wound (between the wound and the person’s heart). Never position a tourniquet on a joint like an elbow or knee, as you will not be able to tighten the tourniquet sufficiently.
Pull or tie the tourniquet as tight as you can on your own, then use the windlass to twist it even tighter, and then tie or fasten the windlass in place so it won’t come loose.
Finally, clearly label the tourniquet with the time that you applied it. This will help medical professionals know how long the tourniquet has been on.
More Tourniquet FAQs
Many people — even those who know how to use a tourniquet — feel nervous or uncertain about using one because they’re afraid that they may cause harm to the injured person. However, the more you educate yourself about how to use a tourniquet safely and effectively, the better equipped you’ll be to save a life should the need arise.
When Should You NOT Use a Tourniquet?
In the past, people learning how to use a tourniquet have been told to use one on a snake bite to prevent the venom from spreading. This is bad advice. A tourniquet keeps the venom concentrated, which can cause serious long-term damage to the limb.
Additionally, do not use a tourniquet if:
- The wound is on the person’s head, neck, or torso
- The bleeding is not life-threatening
- You’re able to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound
A final mistake to avoid is using the wrong material to construct a makeshift tourniquet. A belt may seem like a good option, but most are too difficult to wind tightly with a windlass.
Who Is Qualified to Use a Tourniquet?
While you should always call for help in an emergency, there may not be time to wait for medical professionals to arrive before applying a tourniquet. The good news is that anyone who knows how to use a tourniquet and has the necessary materials can apply one.
If you see a person who might be in need of a tourniquet, don’t wait — administer first aid to the best of your abilities while someone calls emergency services. You could very well save the person’s life!
How Long Can a Tourniquet Safely Stay On?
You may have heard that you should loosen or remove a tourniquet after a certain amount of time to prevent tissue damage. However, only a medical professional should remove a tourniquet.
Don’t try to remove or loosen the tourniquet to make the person more comfortable, even if they complain that it’s too tight. It needs to be uncomfortably tight — and stay that way — to be effective.
Tourniquets Save Lives
Knowing when and how to use a tourniquet can be a life-saving skill in an extreme emergency. You never know when disaster can strike, so it’s always best to be prepared to perform whatever first aid may be needed.
By learning what to do — and what not to do — ahead of time, you can ensure you’re able to provide the best possible emergency aid should the need arise.
For more first aid tips and information, connect with us on LinkedIn.