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Why Improvised Tourniquets Don’t Work (But Why You Should Still Learn How)

Never improvise unless you have to…

A good medic takes pride in being able to make do with less. Emergency medicine almost never happens in a place when you have every resource at your disposal.

Unless you’re shot in a hospital, odds are good you’ll be severely limited in the type of gear you need to save a life.

Bleeding control is of course the most time sensitive issue for any trauma. Bleeding must be stopped at the earliest opportunity or the casualty may not recover from serious wounds.

Fortunately, bad extremity bleeds are relatively simple to control with the right tools. Tourniquets (TQ) enjoy a good track record for saving lives because they are quick and easy to apply and anyone can learn how to do it effectively in a short time.

But if you don’t have the right tools for the job, survival rates start to drop significantly. Since tourniquets appear to be very simple devices, sometimes it’s assumed you can just quickly make one on the spot and save the day.

But since this is Real Life, things don’t always work like it seems they should.

Your first choice should NOT be to make an improvised Tourniquet.

Here’s why:

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A Loose Tourniquet Will Kill You Faster

My brother-in-law Josh is a great role player. Very enthusiastic.

Knowing how to use the equipment you have available is a key detail for saving lives. If you don’t understand how your gear works and what it’s doing when you deploy it, the effectiveness can be drastically reduced.

This is especially true for tourniquets. It’s not enough to simply buy lifesaving equipment, then never learn how to use it right. I have seen many occasions where a person had a quality TQ like the CAT but didn’t use it correctly.

There is a myth about tourniquets that it should be loosened every so often to allow some blood to flow back into the limb. This, supposedly, is so the limb is getting oxygenated blood to the limb and it will therefore not need to be amputated.

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Why the SWAT-T is Good for Civilians, but Not the Military

I know I already touched on this topic a few weeks ago, but I wanted to go a little more in depth on why I believe the SWAT-T is a great back up.

When I became a part of Mountain Man Medical earlier this year, I knew I was about to learn a lot. Not only was I going to brush up on old trauma skills, but I was going to learn about how to publish articles and videos. Being a knuckledragger with a low-level IQ means it’s tenacity that wins the day over speed. Eventually, I’ll learn a new thing if I apply myself.

What I was unprepared for was how many rumors and myths I’ve encountered surrounding basic trauma medicine. The medical world is constantly changing and evolving. New techniques are always being studied, developed, improved on, thrown away, or otherwise changed so something once thought of as the gospel truth, is now widely frowned upon in modern medicine.

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The SWAT-T is the Best Backup Tourniquet

Having a commercial, purpose-made tourniquet ready to go in an emergency is essential for keeping someone alive. Trying to build your own on the spot takes time you don’t have and won’t be nearly as effective as something like the CAT.

And no, your belt is not an acceptable substitute of a quality tourniquet. I run into people all the time that say they would just use their belt to control a life-threatening bleed because they haven’t stopped to think about how it might actually be done.

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