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What is a Bruise?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A bruise is an area of skin discoloration resulting from blood vessels breaking and leaking into the skin. The bruise can also be called a contusion or a hematoma. Most are familiar with the type of bruise that occurs when one has a blunt hit to the skin, such as might occur if one bangs one’s shin on the dishwasher door. Actually, there are three types of bruises that can occur. These are subcutaneous, intramuscular, and periosteal.

A subcutaneous bruise is usually the most minor, least painful, and shortest lasting. In fact some subcutaneous bruises do not hurt much at all, and people can’t remember injuring themselves. The subcutaneous bruise affects the blood vessels directly beneath the skin. It can range in color from dark purple, to brown. As the bruise fades, it becomes yellowish or light brown and ultimately disappears.

An intramuscular bruise affects blood vessels in the muscle, and occurs in muscles underlying the skin. Because it is deeper, it usually signifies a harder hit to the bruised area. Thus it can be more painful, and the bruise can be much larger as the blood vessels release blood to the skin. It can also be painful to the touch.

A periosteal bruise affects blood vessels and the outer layer of bone, called the cortex. If one breaks off enough of the cortex, one has a fracture. On the other hand, when only a few fibers break off, this is normally a bone bruise. It is the most painful of the bruises, and frequently requires an X-ray to rule out fracture. This is especially the case because fractures will also cause discoloration of the skin.

Generally the treatment for a periosteal bruise is icing the injury for 10-15 minutes every two hours for the first day. This can help with swelling and pain. It may also be necessary to rest the area, depending upon the extent of the injury. As well, taking acetaminophen can help. Doctors may recommend not taking ibuprofen or aspirin, since this can thin the blood and actually worsen bruising.

In fact, people who routinely use blood thinners like aspirin and warfarin will bruise much more easily. Blood vessels are slightly more vulnerable. People on blood thinners should be especially careful and seek treatment for any injuries to the head, since the risk of concussion is much higher.

Generally, however, the occasional bruise, especially of the subcutaneous type, is likely to cause a little discomfort, but will dissipate without significant pain. Should a person notice extreme pain or swelling around the site of an injury, a doctor should be consulted to rule out more extensive injury to the bones or muscles.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon115347 — On Oct 01, 2010

I went to the doctor to get an X-ray for my foot and they said it is a spastic bruise. I can't find anything about this type. What is it?

By anon76611 — On Apr 11, 2010

I have a periosteal bruise and went to the ER for it. They did indeed do an x ray to rule out fracture. It is very painful and is on my foot, so I cannot walk. I am in a post-op shoe until it heals. If aspirin and ibuprofen are ruled out, what is suggested for pain relief? Thanks!

By anon32966 — On May 29, 2009

What does it mean when a bruise "moves"? My wife fell and has a large bruise on her side (above her hip) and it has now spread to the stomach area. Thank you.

By anon31867 — On May 12, 2009

to the first commenter: the reason why we do not bruise on our stomach is because the blood vessels are not as close to the dermis of the skin and it won't leak onto the skin to cause the black or blue color.

By anon2016 — On Jun 24, 2007

why is it that you can't get a bruise on your stomach?

By anon350 — On Apr 22, 2007

Hi could you please explain to me how a body actually repairs a bruise?

Many thanks

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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