Since we have been talking about First Aid skills and supplies over this past week, we would like to call your attention to a particular item in our catalog: tourniquet strap.
The Emergency Tourniquet Strap: One Hand is a great piece of emergency survival gear to have in your disaster first aid kit. Its unique construction makes it possible to apply it to your own injuries if necessary.
That being said, it does take training to learn when a tourniquet may be required, and how to make and/or use them effectively.
This blog post will take a general look at using tourniquets.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog post offers suggestions and general tips for informational purposes ONLY. Under no circumstances do we claim to be medical professionals, and no information presented herein should be considered to be authoritative, nor used as a guide to treatment or diagnosis.
A tourniquet is a wide strip of flexible cloth (or other material) which is wrapped loosely around a limb, then tightened to control blood flow below the site of the tourniquet.
NOTE: Never use a thin wire or another cordage as a tourniquet, as it can further damage the limb, skin, muscle, or arteries and veins when it is tightened.
How do You Make a Tourniquet?
You can buy commercially manufactured tourniquets in many forms.
For example, our Emergency Tourniquet Strap is made out of nylon, with a hook and loop latching mechanism.
If you do not have a manufactured tourniquet in your survival first aid kit, you can make one from any flexible material such as a bandanna, torn clothing, canvas, a leather belt, etc. Remember to use wide strips.
Do not use materials made with elastic if at all possible, as they make tightening the tourniquet more difficult to control precisely. Loop the chosen material around the injured limb, above the site of the wound, and tie a knot in it so that it lies loosely around the limb.
Square knots will work best (we will have a post about the different kinds of knots you should know next week). When you have constructed the loop of fabric, place a stout stick or metal rod (called the “winch”) above the knot, tie another square knot above it, and begin twisting it to draw the material together and tighten it around the limb.
Avoid making the winch out of sharp or jagged materials, as it may cut the tourniquet or the victim as it tightens. Our emergency tourniquet strap has a built-in windlass to make tightening a simple operation. Once the tourniquet is sufficiently tight, secure the winch with another knotted loop to prevent it from unspooling.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NEVER apply tourniquets on the neck, torso, or abdomen, as you will restrict the blood flow to the brain or heart. This will kill you faster than bleeding out from a wound.
When Should You use a Tourniquet?
When you or someone in your group has an injury that is bleeding, applying direct pressure to the wound should always be your first action. Elevate the victim’s wounded limb above their heart to slow the flow of blood, and clean the wound to see the extent of the damage.
You may need to cut away clothing or jewelry to properly treat the wound. If there is any foreign material stuck into the wound, such as a length of metal or wood, leave it there for emergency medical personnel to deal with.
Removing it may cause further damage, and it might be preventing more sufficient blood flow.
Once the wound is elevated and clean, apply a clean (if not sterile) cloth directly to the wound. Press the fabric tightly against the wound for at least 15 minutes. Do not remove the compress during this time, as you may dislodge any blood clots that have already formed.
If, after 15 minutes, the bleeding seems to have stopped, you may gently raise the compress to assess the wound. If the compress you are using to stanch the wound becomes soaked with blood, do not remove it, just add another on top and maintain pressure.
If the bleeding is particularly severe, the victim may go into shock. Symptoms of shock include:
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, losing consciousness
- Dilated pupils
- Pale and clammy skin
- Rapid pulse and/or respiration
If direct pressure fails to stop the bleeding, a tourniquet may be necessary. This also applies if there are multiple serious injuries, or professional medical treatment is far away.
Where to Place a Tourniquet
A tourniquet should be placed approximately two inches above the wound, but not at a joint such as the elbow or knee. These areas have protection against compression to keep blood flowing when the limb is bent.
If the wound being treated is within two inches of an elbow or knee, place the tourniquet above the joint. Do not put a tourniquet on top of clothing, as this may cause it to slip.
Tighten the tourniquet until the arterial blood flow—the blood that “spurts” in time with the heartbeat—is stopped.
Tourniquets applied to the legs must be tighter than those used to the arms, as the arteries in the legs are larger. As long as blood continues to seep around the tourniquet, do not remove it. If the bleeding seems to have stopped, carefully remove the tourniquet and bind the wound.
The Risks of Using a Tourniquet Strap
Again, direct pressure and professional medical help should be your first choices for treating bleeding wounds, but if you must use a tourniquet, know the risks of doing so. These include:
- The tourniquet is too loose – will not stop bleeding; may actually make it worse by blocking venous blood flow (to the heart) and continuing to allow arterial blood flow (from the heart), which is under higher pressure.
- Tourniquet is in the wrong place – will not be effective in controlling the bleeding.
- Tourniquet is removed too soon – can damage the blood vessels and restart the bleeding.
- The tourniquet is left on too long – can result in damage to the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and possibly bone. As a general guide, permanent damage can occur after a tourniquet has been left on the limb for one or two hours. Professional medical personnel will need to know how long the tourniquet has been in use. Our emergency tourniquet strap has an incorporated label for noting the specific time the tourniquet was applied.
We hope this post has given you useful information on the hows, when, and whys of using a tourniquet. As we stated in our post earlier this week, First Aid is one of the most important skills you can learn in order to be prepared for a disaster situation, and being able to treat bleeding wounds is a critical part of that.
Having an emergency tourniquet strap in your disaster prep kit will give you more peace of mind, but even if you decide not to buy one, a tourniquet is one of the most straightforward pieces of medical treatment equipment to construct with found materials.
Come back next week, when we will be discussing the hierarchy of needs that should guide your emergency prepping, the different types of cordage you should have in your survival kit, useful knots to know in a disaster situation, how to maximize your chances of surviving a flood, and more! We will see you then!