An Esmarch bandage is a bandage which is designed to act as a tourniquet to restrict the flow of blood into a limb in order to limit blood loss. The original version of this bandage was developed by German physician Friedrich von Esmarch in the late 1800s for use in battlefield medicine. Since then, the design of the bandage has changed considerably, as have its uses. Medical supply companies may carry Esmarch bandages in their catalogs, usually in a range of sizes.
The original version of the Esmarch bandage was a triangular strip of tough material such as linen. The bandage was designed to be large so that it could be utilized in a number of different ways, allowing people to carry one bandage to meet numerous needs. On the battlefield, this could be extremely important, because medics needed to travel light in order to provide services to as many soldiers as possible.
In the field, the Esmarch bandage was designed to provide consistent pressure to prevent blood loss so that a patient could be evacuated to a hospital for treatment. The bandage could also be used in surgery to clear blood from a limb in order to make the surgical field easier to visualize. Typically the limb would be elevated to encourage blood to flow out before applying the tourniquet. Esmarch referred to his invention as “Esmarch's bandage for surgical haemostasis,” and it quickly became known simply as an Esmarch bandage.
After the introduction of this bandage, doctors began to realize that it could lead to nerve damage if it was not applied properly. Several variants on the design were developed including more elastic bandages. Today, the Esmarch bandage can take a number of forms, ranging from a rubber tube to an elastic strip. These designs have been developed to reduce the risks associated with applying an Esmarch bandage and to make the bandage easier to use.
Although the Esmarch bandage can be used as a surgical tourniquet, most operating rooms prefer more sophisticated bandaging systems which are designed to reduce the risk of damage to the patient. These include limb protectors to minimize pinching and pulling of the skin and nerves, along with bandages which can be precisely inflated to a desired level of pressure to control blood flow to the surgical field. Numerous controlled studies have been conducted to determine the best way to use tourniquets in surgery, balancing the need for a clean surgical field with the desire to avoid injuring patients or setting up situations which may impede healing.