In most cases the best way to treat a bruised arm is to apply ice to the affected area to reduce swelling. Bruises usually appear after a contact injury has broken blood vessels near the surface of the skin, and cold compresses can help speed the healing process. Many people also take mild painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to ease pain, and taking care to rest your arm and keep it protected from further injury can also help. Small bruises aren’t usually serious and most of the time they’ll go away on their own even without treatment. Experts often recommend that people get medical attention for bruises that don’t seem to be getting better, or discolorations that get bigger or seem to change location. You should also usually see a professional if you notice constant bruising on your arm but can’t remember injuring yourself, since this could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Basics of Bruising
Bruising occurs when blood leaks out of torn vessels and pools up just beneath the skin. This leakage often causes discolorations that can appear black, blue or purple, or even have a green or yellow overtone. It often looks like the skin itself has changed color, but in most cases everything is happening beneath the surface.
There are many different things that can cause a bruised arm. Bumps and minor injuries are the most common. Inadvertently running into objects or having objects run into you can contribute, and falls are often to blame, as well. Sometimes bruising on the arms can simply be a result thin skin, as is often seen in elderly people whose blood vessels are more fragile.
Addressing Soreness and Swelling
Home treatment for a minor bruise on the arm generally focuses on reducing soreness and swelling. Applying a cold compress or ice pack to the bruised area for 20 to 30 minutes — or until the skin feels numb — can help reduce pain, and can lessen any swelling that may have resulted. Ice helps to slow the flow of blood around the injury, and if treatment is applied immediately, it can help prevent bruises from forming altogether. This, of course, only works if you’re very proactive; most people don’t realized that a bump or bang was hard enough to leave a bruise till they notice the discoloration.
Doctors do not usually recommend applying ice directly onto the skin, since direct contact with freezing temperatures can result in further injury and can sometimes actually make bruises worse. The best thing to do is usually to gather ice cubes into a thick plastic bag or wrap them in a towel in order to create something of a buffer between them and your arm. A wet towel may work best, as a dry towel can prevent the cool temperatures from reaching the skin. Using a commercial ice pack or bag of frozen food can work, too. Ice treatments can be repeated several times a day and can continue for about a week.
Switching to Heat
If symptoms have improved after two days of ice application, heating the area may help speed recovery by increasing blood flow. It’s not usually a good idea to start with heat, since this might cause the bruise to grow, but it can help healing once the swelling has gone down. Heat can be applied two to three times a day until the bruise begins to fade. A warm washcloth generally serves this purpose well.
Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications might also help alleviate the pain from a bruised arm, and can sometimes help swelling, too. Medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are typically recommended. Doctors usually advise against taking aspirin, however, as it works as a blood thinner and can prolong the symptoms of a bruise. Keeping the bruised arm elevated for the first day or so after injury can also help reduce painful swelling, and keeping it protected or consciously using it less might also speed healing.
When to Get Help
Bruises typically start to look better after a couple of days, and in most cases they heal completely within 2 to 4 weeks if treated properly. Pain and swelling should disappear more quickly, however. If painful swelling continues for more than a few days, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor to rule out the possibility of a more serious injury like a fracture or a sprain.
It’s usually also a good idea to schedule a check-up if you notice persistent bruising on your arm but can’t remember hurting yourself. Bruises that appear for seemingly no reason might be caused by a blood condition or other internal problem. In these cases, things like ice, heat, and pain medication won’t do anything to help them shrink, and they may not go away on their own. Early treatment and diagnosis is often really important in these cases in order to help get a good outcome.