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Tourniquet Misconceptions: Don’t Be Subject to Outdated Conventional Wisdom


Some of the conventional wisdom on tourniquet use is outdated. Here are the important modern views on tourniquets and their use.

Skinny Medic has the latest on proper and effective tourniquet use. He dispels a number of tourniquet myths or just questionable advice.

The old convention was that you used a tourniquet only as a last resort. Nowadays the national standard if to apply firm, direct pressure to a bleeding wound, and if that doesn’t get the bleeding to stop you apply a tourniquet to the area and move on.

Another misconception is that putting a tourniquet on an extremity greatly increases the chances that you will ultimately lose the limb. Not necessarily so, says Skinny Medic. The danger is indeed greater for loss of limb the longer the tourniquet is in place, but it is not a given. This fear, he says, prevents people from applying the tourniquet in the first place. But it is better to save a life than to possibly lose a limb.

Next he covers the “belt tourniquet” notion. People avoid adding tourniquets to their trauma kits because they think that a belt or cordage will do the job. Well, in an emergency a belt or cordage can do the job, but it is certainly not preferable.

This primarily has to do with the width of the tourniquet. It is much more difficult to stop blood flow with a narrow, makeshift tourniquet. Can it be done? Yes, but it requires much more pressure to get the blood to stop flowing than with a legitimate medical tourniquet. This is not to say that you should not use makeshift tourniquets if there is no other option. You should. But a legitimate, specifically designed tourniquet is much preferable and could help avoid loss of limb.

Skinny Medic also reinforces that everyone should have at least one Israeli bandage in their kit. Read about Israeli bandages here and here.

Next he covers training. Many people think that they require no training to employ a tourniquet. They’ll just put it on, no big deal…or so they think.

“Tourniquets are proper equipment,” he says. “The tourniquet takes training, it takes practice. Because when you’re under stress and your heart rate goes from about 80 to 150, and your breathing about 30 times a minute, and you’re shaking because your adrenaline’s pumping so much, you’re fine motor skills will fail you.”

Finally, Skinny Medic addresses the idea of putting a tourniquet on a victim and he or she will automatically get back in the fight. It does happen, he says. But chances are, once a tourniquet is placed on someone, they are out of the fight.

Tourniquets hurt. When tourniquets are applied they compress nerves, muscles, and blood flow. That results in an intense amount of pain. And usually the limb will go numb and be of no use anyway.

“I’ve talked with guys who’ve had complete amputations of their leg, and a tourniquet was applied,” he says, “and they’ve said that the tourniquet hurt worse than the complete amputation.” This is just something to keep in mind, that once a tourniquet is applied you may not be able to get back in the fight.

Hopefully these tips will help you better appreciate the equipment in your trauma kit. Get the proper training and better prepare yourself for when the unthinkable happens. There are no shortcuts to training and knowledge.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

NEXT: Trauma Supplies to Help You Help Yourself in Emergencies

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Tourniquet Misconceptions: Don’t Be Subject to Outdated Conventional Wisdom