If you go to your doctor for an injury, they might tell you that you have a contusion. A contusion is just the medical term for a bruise.
Contusions are a type of hematoma — any collection of blood outside a blood vessel. When you get a contusion, capillaries or blood vessels are injured and blood leaks into the surrounding area.
Anyone can get a contusion, but we’ll explain how contusions can affect your bones and soft tissues differently, along with how each type of contusion is treated.
Just like the rest of your body, your bones are made of tissue and blood vessels. Any injury to this tissue can cause one or more blood vessels to leak blood. A hard fall, car accident, or high-impact sports injury can all cause bone contusions.
The symptoms of a bone contusion include:
- stiffness or swelling
- trouble bending or using the affected area
- pain that lasts longer than the symptoms of a typical bruise would
Bone contusions are usually impossible to see, even on an X-ray. To diagnose it, your doctor will eliminate other potential causes of your symptoms, such as fractures.
They may also do an MRI scan, which will provide a better image of any bone contusions.
On their own, bone bruises take anywhere from a few days to several months to heal, depending on how severe the injury is.
As you heal, your doctor might suggest taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). These can help with pain. You can also apply a cold pack to the area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, to reduce swelling.
Soft tissue contusions are injuries to your muscle or skin tissue. This is what most people are referring to when they talk about a basic bruise.
Soft tissue contusions are much easier to diagnose than bone contusions because they have distinct characteristics:
- discolored skin that looks red, green, purple, blue, or black
- a small bump over the area in some cases
- pain that’s usually worse when pressure is applied to the area
While both muscle and skin tissue contusions cause pain, muscle tissue contusions are usually more painful, especially if they affect a muscle that you can’t avoid using.
Many things can cause a soft tissue contusion — from bumping into the table to twisting your ankle. You may also notice one after having your blood drawn or receiving intravenous (IV) medications.
Most contusions simply need time to heal.
Soft tissue contusions can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to heal. Bone contusions may take longer — usually a couple of months — depending on how severe the injury is.
For either type of bruise, you can use the RICE protocol as you recover to help manage your symptoms.
RICE stands for:
- Rest. Rest the area whenever possible.
- Ice. Apply a cold compress to the area to reduce swelling. You can do this for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. You must always put a cloth between the compress or ice and your skin. Skin in direct contact with any cold source can quickly develop an ice burn or frostbite.
- Compress. Compress the bruised area with a wrap or bandage to reduce swelling. Just make sure you don’t wrap it so tight that it starts to affect your circulation.
- Elevate. If possible, raise the affected area above your heart. This can help to drain blood from the injured area.
If you have a bone contusion, your doctor might suggest additional treatment, including:
- wearing a temporary brace
- increasing your intake of vitamin D and calcium, which are both crucial for bone health
Never try to drain the blood from a contusion with a needle or other sharp object. It won’t help you heal any faster, and it’ll raise your chances of the injury getting infected.
Contact your doctor if you don’t start noticing any improvements in your pain or swelling after a few days.
You’ve probably had a contusion before — it’s just the medical term for a common bruise.
Bruises can occur on your skin, muscles, and bones.
If you’ve had any type of injury and you’re concerned about the bruising, you can always reach out to a doctor for advice. If the injury is severe or you think you may have hit your head, always seek immediate medical care.