How to Apply a Tourniquet Correctly

How To Apply A Tourniquet Correctly

Learn how to apply a tourniquet and when one should be used to save a life.

Table of Contents

Although many people likely already know that a tourniquet is used to prevent excessive bleeding or cut off blood flow in an emergency, it is not always clear how to apply a tourniquet or when one should be used. 

For this reason, most uses of this medical device should be handled by a health care professional. But for anyone who is interested in knowing the safe steps for using a tourniquet to potentially save a life, the following steps will provide a basic understanding of the process.

Knowing Why and How to Apply a Tourniquet

In addition to determining the right way to put a tourniquet on a patient’s body, it is also vital to understand when one should be used. As a fundamental rule, tourniquets can be used when someone has a serious injury and could potentially lose a fatal amount of blood before receiving further medical treatment.

Since tourniquets can cause damage to human tissue and other body parts during prolonged use, it is important not to use one unless absolutely necessary and for as short a time as possible.

A few examples of life-threatening injuries that could require the use of a tourniquet include a car crash, major cuts, gun-related injuries, and crushed arms or legs.

How To Apply A Tourniquet Correctly

Understanding How to Make a Tourniquet

Standard Issue Cat Tourniquet® Gen7 | C-A-T® Combat Application Tourniquet (Gen 7)
C-A-T® Combat Application Tourniquet (GEN 7)

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Although medical-grade tourniquets are made of the best possible materials, these are typically not available in a real-world emergency. For that reason, part of knowing how to apply a tourniquet involves figuring out the best way to create one with the items that are on hand at the time.

Towels, garments, and other soft pieces of cloth can often be used in a life-or-death situation to create the triangle-shaped bandage that will be used as a tourniquet. The other crucial piece of the process involves a stick, an ink pen, or something else that can be used as a windlass to keep the tourniquet tied tightly around the area near a wound.

Keeping Personal Safety in Mind

In addition to caring for the patient, anyone who is figuring out how to apply a tourniquet on an injured person should also consider their own safety.

Since blood is always a factor, it is important to use any gloves, masks, or other protective equipment and garments that are available at the scene.

Recognizing the Benefits and Risks

Using a makeshift tourniquet is not always successful, but experts say that it can help more than half the time when used correctly and under the proper circumstances. Stopping the bleeding to an extremity is a proven way to help prevent an injured person from going into shock, potentially bleeding to death, or losing a limb due to serious injury. 

Although it is not a perfect solution, knowing how to apply a tourniquet might be the best option available when moments matter. Of course, it is crucial not to wait too late before applying a tourniquet because too much blood loss can prove fatal. If time is of the essence, creating a tourniquet and putting it in the right location can buy enough time for medical professionals to step in and save a life or limb.

How To Apply A Tourniquet Correctly

Following the Proper Steps to Apply a Tourniquet

For starters, anyone who is considering the use of a tourniquet should know that they are only useful for injuries to arms or legs and should never be used to stop blood flow to the head or torso. Additionally, it is imperative that anyone figuring out how to apply a tourniquet in an emergency also make a phone call to 911 to ensure that the proper medical experts are available as soon as possible to provide additional first aid and treatment to the wound. 

As for the steps involved in properly using a tourniquet:

  1. The first priority involves helping the injured individual to lie down and searching for the source of the bleeding.
  2. Next, remove all clothing from the area near the wound and look for the proper place to apply the tourniquet.
  3. Apply some pressure to the wound and if the bleeding does not stop, start creating a makeshift tourniquet. 

From here, it is important to determine if the injured person is alert and provide plenty of warning that a tourniquet will be tied to his or her body, which will be quite painful. Figuring out how to apply a tourniquet involves locating an area on the limb that is between the heart and the injury but not directly on a joint. Tying the material is similar to tying shoelaces without the final step of creating a bow. The windlass can be used as a lever to ensure that the tourniquet is wrapped as tightly as possible before the knot is finished to keep it all in place.

Keep tightening the tourniquet until the bleeding has slowed down considerably or stopped altogether, and make a clear marking on the person’s body to let first responders know how long it has been tied on the limb. This will help medical professionals make the most appropriate decisions about how to treat the injury.

Important Questions & Answers

Inflatable tourniquets are specialized devices used primarily during surgery, while noninflatable tourniquets are made of cloth or other materials that are tied around a limb near a serious wound.

A rubber tourniquet is often used to help draw blood or insert an intravenous device. These are not tied as tightly as traditional tourniquets and are simply wrapped snugly around a patient’s arm without being tied.

Experts say a tourniquet should be placed roughly two inches above a wound, but if there is a joint in the way, it should be tied tightly above the joint.

Tourniquets should only be used in an absolute emergency, since the interruption of blood flow can cause serious damage to the tissues. Research indicates that leaving a tourniquet tied onto a limb for two hours can result in permanent nerve damage and other serious issues. After six hours, it is likely that the limb will need to be amputated.