Tourniquets are tight bands used to control bleeding by completely stopping the blood flow to a wound. Tourniquets have a bad rap in the field of emergency first aid. Complications of tourniquet use have led to severe tissue damage. However, tourniquets can arrest bleeding quite well - and are certainly useful in cases of severe bleeding that cannot be stopped in any other way.
- Stay Safe. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.
- Before using a tourniquet, try using less damaging steps to control bleeding. If the scene is unsafe, and there is no time to attempt other steps, tourniquets can be used to control active bleeding.
- Use a non-stretchy material, such as terry cloth or a cravat, and fold it lengthwise until it's between 1 and 2 inches wide.
- Tie the tourniquet around the injured arm or leg, several inches above the injury. If the injury is below the elbow or knee, you may need to tie the tourniquet above the joint (see photo). Use a common square knot (like tying your shoes without the bow).
- Place a stick or other item strong enough to act as a windlass on the knot and tie the loose ends of the tourniquet around it in another square knot (see photo).
Anything can be used as a windlass, as long as it is strong enough to hold the tourniquet and can be secured in place. Consider using pens or pencils, sticks, spoons, or even a piece of pipe like that in the photo.
- Twist the windlass to increase the pressure until the bleeding stops.
- Secure the windlass by tying one or both ends to the victim's arm or leg.
- If possible, mark the time the tourniquet was placed by putting a "T" on the victim's forehead with the time/day.
- For more information on when to properly use tourniquets, read Understanding Tourniquets.
Sources: Beebe, Richard, and Deborah Funk. Fundamentals of Emergency Care. 2001. Delmar.
What You Need
- Exam gloves
- Enough material to wrap around the limb twice
- Stick or other item for a windlass