You fall off your bike, bang your shin on the coffee table (that you swore you would move months ago) or run into a wall and wake up with a wallop of a bruise. What is a bruise and what can you do about it?

What is it?

Bruising is the body's normal response to local trauma or damage. A bruise forms when a blow breaks small blood vessels near your skin's surface, allowing a small amount of blood to leak out into the tissues under your skin. A bruise appears as a black-and-blue mark. Sometimes, there also are tiny red dots or red splotches.

What causes it?

A bruise (medically referred to as a contusion) is caused when tiny blood vessels are damaged or broken as the result of a blow to the skin (be it bumping against something or hitting yourself with a hammer). The raised area of a bump or bruise results from blood leaking from these injured blood vessels into the tissues as well as from the body's response to the injury. A purplish, flat bruise that occurs when blood leaks out into the top layers of skin is referred to as an ecchymosis.

The most common cause of a bruise is simply bumping into something accidentally. However, bruising easily can be a sign of something far more serious. These can be:

  • Bleeding disorder
  • Hemophilia
  • Von Willebrand's disease
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Immune disorder
  • Leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation
  • Scurvy

Contact your health professional if you are concerned about the frequency of your bruising.

What are the symptoms?

A bruise appears as a black-and-blue mark, and slowly fades back to normal.

Are there any natural therapies?

Once a bruise has formed, not much can be done to treat it. It will eventually disappear as your body reabsorbs the blood.

If swelling is associated with the bruising, applying a cold compress for 20 minutes at a time and elevating the affected area may help. After the swelling has gone down, a warm compress may speed reabsorption.

To prevent minor bruising, eliminate household clutter that could cause bumps or falls. Long-sleeved shirts and pants may provide an extra layer of protection for your skin. Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun to help you avoid its ageing effects and the increased bruising risk that may result.

If the sight of your bruises bothers you, try covering them with makeup until they've healed.

Did you know?

Everyone will get at least one bruise in their lifetime; some, more than others. Some people simply bruise easier than others.