When and How to Use a Tourniquet: Life-saving Techniques

What is a Tourniquet?

When someone is suffering from traumatic blood loss, a tourniquet is an emergency medical device that can help treat an injury until professional help arrives. It is designed to apply pressure to a limb in order to temporarily stop the flow of blood through a vein or artery. Learning how to use a tourniquet is crucial in emergency situations involving life-threatening bleeding, as every second counts, especially if a severe bleeding injury occurs that causes rapid blood loss. Being prepared with a tourniquet and knowing how to correctly apply a tourniquet can help save an injured person’s life.


It is important for individuals who are likely to encounter such situations to be trained in the proper use of tourniquets. Knowing how to correctly use a tourniquet can help save a victim’s life, particularly in cases of traumatic injuries that result in rapid blood loss. In these emergency situations, having a tourniquet on hand and understanding its correct application can make a significant difference in the outcome for the injured person.  


When are Tourniquets Needed?

When a bleeding injury with excessive bleeding occurs, the first instinct for many is to apply direct pressure. However, sometimes direct pressure alone is not enough. If a bleed cannot be controlled or stopped using direct pressure or if you are unable to apply direct pressure, tourniquets can help control bleeding. In cases of complete limb amputation, a tourniquet is necessary to stop blood flow.  


Heavy and bleeding uncontrollably can cause death within just minutes, so it is necessary that a tourniquet is used when other protocols fail. Tourniquets can typically be found in bleeding control kits and are needed when there is spurting or pulsating blood, which is typically bright red, or when there is a steady slow bleeding flow of blood, which is typically dark red.


What are the Types of Tourniquets?

Tourniquets can be either windlass or elastic, each used to stop the flow of blood. Prior to using either tourniquet, be sure to call emergency medical services so medical professionals can arrive as soon as possible to help.  

Windlass Tourniquet: A windlass tourniquet uses a rod to help stop the blood supply.  

Elastic Tourniquet: An elastic tourniquet is stretched and wrapped around the area to slow bleeding.  


How to Use a Tourniquet:

Using a tourniquet may be painful for the injured person, however it is necessary to ensure they don’t experience excessive blood loss. If you don’t know how to properly apply a tourniquet, you could be at risk for losing too much blood. We’re here to give you the step-by-step on how you can use both windlass and elastic tourniquets to help stop the blood flow. 


How to use a windlass tourniquet:

  1. Remove clothing or material from the area you are going to place the tourniquet on so that it is applied to bare skin
  2. Place the tourniquet two inches above the wound, making sure not to place it on a joint.  
  3. Apply the tourniquet by sliding it over the affected limb, pull the tail tight, twist the handle until the bleeding stops and lock it into place. 
  4. Be sure to note the time you applied the tourniquet for medical personnel to know how long it has been applied when they arrive at the scene. 

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How to use an elastic tourniquet: 

  1. Remove clothing or material, only wrapping the elastic around bare skin 
  2. Stretch the tourniquet around the affected area 
  3. Cross the two ends over each other 
  4. Loop one end under the other  
  5. Note the time tourniquet is applied 

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In the event that you do not have access to either a windlass or elastic tourniquet, you can create an improvised tourniquet using a piece of clothing and placing pressure on the affected areas. It’s important to act quickly when someone is bleeding uncontrollably. You never know when such a simple tool may be needed to save a life. Ensuring you know how to properly use a tourniquet, whether it’s a windlass or elastic type, can make all the difference when it comes to limiting blood loss and preventing further damage to blood vessels in emergency situations.


Tourniquet Use FAQ


Q. What is the main purpose of a tourniquet?

A. The main purpose of a tourniquet is to apply pressure to a limb in order to temporarily stop the flow of blood through a vein or artery. This can help treat an injury and control life-threatening bleeding until professional help arrives.


Q. When should I use a tourniquet instead of applying direct pressure to a wound?

A. You should use a tourniquet if direct pressure alone is not enough to control or stop the bleeding, if you are unable to apply direct pressure, or in cases of complete limb amputation. Tourniquets are essential when there is spurting or pulsating blood, or when there is a steady, slow bleeding flow of blood that cannot be controlled by other means.


Q. Can tourniquets be used on any part of the body, or are there specific areas where they should not be applied?

A. Tourniquets are primarily designed for use on limbs (arms and legs) and should not be placed on a joint. They should be applied two inches above the wound. Tourniquets are not recommended for use on the neck or torso, as they can cause serious damage or be ineffective in these areas.


Q. How long can a tourniquet safely be left on a limb before causing damage?

A. The safe duration for a tourniquet to be left on a limb varies, but generally, it should be removed as soon as professional medical help arrives. Prolonged use of a tourniquet may lead to tissue damage or other complications. It is important to note the time the tourniquet was applied, as this information will help medical personnel determine the appropriate course of action.


Q. Can I use a makeshift tourniquet if I don’t have a proper one available during an emergency?

A. In the event that you do not have access to a proper tourniquet, you can create an improvised tourniquet using a piece of clothing or a similar material. However, improvised tourniquets may not be as effective as a commercially available tourniquet, and it is essential to seek professional medical help as soon as possible in these situations.


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