Have you ever noticed how bruises change color as they heal? Knowing about a bruise’s origin and lifespan will help you understand more about the rainbow of color changes, including what they all mean.
A bruise is the typical result of a blow to the skin that causes capillaries, or tiny blood vessels that can be found near the surface of your skin, to break. Broken capillaries leak blood in the surrounding tissues, which causes tenderness and discoloration under your skin.
As the bruise heals, your body absorbs that leaked blood. That’s why the appearance of a bruise changes. In fact, you can guess both the general age of a bruise and roughly where it is in the healing process just by its color.
From start to finish, a bruise will typically last between two and three weeks. Some bruises will take longer to heal. This will depend on both the severity of the injury and where on your body you got the bruise. Some parts of the body, especially extremities like the arms and legs, may be slower to heal.
Here’s what you can expect during the stages of a bruise. Keep in mind that the change from one color to the next is very gradual, and there are varying shades of these colors along the way.
Pink and red
Immediately after a blow, such as banging your shin on a step or your arm on the door, your bruised skin can look a little pink or red. You may notice that the area around the bruise is also swollen and tender to the touch.
Blue and dark purple
Within a day or so of impact, your bruise will darken to blue or purple. This is caused by both low oxygen supplies and swelling at the bruising site. As a result, hemoglobin, which is typically red, begins a gradual change to blue. This darkening can last through the fifth day after injury.
Around the sixth day, your bruise will begin appearing greenish in color. This is a sign of the hemoglobin breaking down. It also means the healing process has begun.
Yellow and brown
After the seventh day from the time of injury, your bruise begins lightening to a pale yellow or light brown shade. This is the last stage of your body’s re-absorption process. Your bruise won’t change color again. Instead, it will gradually fade away until it’s completely gone.
In some cases, a bruise won’t change color or seem to be healing in any way. A bruise that is firm to the touch, begins growing in size, or becomes more painful as time passes (not less) can be a sign that a hematoma has formed.
A hematoma is a lump that forms when blood begins collecting under the skin or in a muscle. Instead of the process described above in the stages of bruising, the blood in a hematoma is “walled off” in the body. In that case, you’ll need a doctor’s help to properly drain the hematoma.
Another, more uncommon reason for a bruise that won’t go away is known as heterotopic ossification. This happens when your body builds up calcium deposits around the site of your injury. It will make your bruise tender and firm to the touch, and it’s something your doctor can diagnose with an X-ray.
You should also see a doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Your bruise isn’t showing signs of improvement after two weeks.
- You seem to bruise often and notice bruises on your body that appear out of nowhere.
- You find it painful to move a joint near the bruise.
- The bruise is close to your eye and it’s difficult to see properly.
- Your bruise seems to be showing signs of infection, like streaks of red, drainage, or you’re experiencing fever.
If you have any concerns about a bruise, including any that aren’t listed here, consult your doctor right away.
While preventing bruises isn’t always possible, you can expedite the healing process at home:
- Use ice packs or cold compresses right after impact to help reduce the size of the bruise and keep inflammation and swelling down. The cold will slow down the amount of blood that rushes to the area, which helps minimize the blood that leaks into the surrounding tissues.
- Elevate the bruised area so that it’s above your heart. This way, gravity is working to help keep blood from pooling in the area.
- Try to rest the area if you can.
- If you’re experiencing pain, pain relievers like acetaminophen can help.
Bruises go through various shades and colors as they heal. Understanding what those colors mean, and what you should expect during the healing process, can help you determine whether a bruise is just a bruise or a sign of something more serious.