A contusion happens when an injured capillary or blood vessel leaks blood into the surrounding area. Contusions are a type of hematoma, which refers to any collection of blood outside of a blood vessel. While the term contusion might sound serious, it’s just a medical term for the common bruise.
We’ll go over how contusions can affect both your bones and soft tissue before explaining how each type is treated.
Contusions on your bones | Bone contusions
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 focus on eliminating other potential causes of your symptoms, such as a fracture. They may also use 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 clear up, depending on how severe the injury is. As you heal, your doctor might suggest taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), to ease your 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 refer to injuries to your muscle or skin tissue. This is also what most people are referring to when they talk about a basic bruise. Soft tissue contusions are must easier to diagnose than bone contusions because they have distinct characteristics, including:
- 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 something to a twisted ankle. You might also notice one after having blood drawn or receiving intravenous medication.
Most contusions simply require time to heal. Soft tissue contusions can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to heal. Bone contusions take a bit longer — usually one to two months — depending on how severe the injury is.
As you recover, you can follow the RICE protocol 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 also put you at risk of developing an infection. Contact your doctor if you don’t start noticing any improvements in your pain or swelling after a few days.
Contusion is a medical term for a common bruise. While you likely think of bruises as splotchy areas of discoloration on your skin, they can also happen to your bones and muscles. In most cases, both soft tissue and bone contusions heal on their own within a week or two, though bone contusions might take longer.