Stopping a life-threatening bleed is your first goal in any trauma emergency. Fortunately, if that bleeding is from an arm or a leg, it can be controlled quickly and easily with a tourniquet (TQ).
There is no question that TQs work. They are effective but simple. In case you don’t know, here’s what is happening when bleeding is controlled with a TQ:
When the band of the tourniquet is tightened, pressure is applied over the artery, which is then compressed against the long bone and clamped down, and the blood supply cut off to that limb.
The myth that a TQ application will ensure the amputation of that limb is false. Applying a TQ does NOT guarantee an amputation. Don’t let this myth keep you from applying a TQ to control bleeding.
The width of a band is important for the effectiveness of a TQ. How wide this band should be is up for debate, but generally, 1.5 inches is considered the narrowest you want to go.
The wider the band, the more pressure is placed over a wider surface area. More pressure is good because it will better occlude or clamp down that artery.
Caution: If making an improvised TQ, don’t use strap material less than 1.5 inches wide. TQs made from very thin material such as wire, or boot laces, have a significant increased risk of tissue and nerve damage. Because so much pressure is placed over such a small surface area, damage is likely.
This talk of pressure is also important when discussing something very common with bleeding control; Tourniquet Pain. If the tourniquet is applied correctly, it will be uncomfortable.
I’ve seen many casualties who complain more about the TQ than they do about the injury that caused the need for it. It’s just something they will have to deal with until they get to the hospital to have the tourniquet removed by a doctor.
If you want to know more about why you need to leave a TQ in place, read here:
However, the width of a tourniquet’s band has much to do with the amount of pain experienced by the casualty. The narrower the strap the more pain will be felt. The opposite of course being true. The wider the band, the less pain is felt by the casualty. There will still be significant discomfort for the alert victim, but it won’t be as bad as a boot lace TQ.
Here are the widths of the most popular brands of tourniquets on the market today for comparison:
Strap width: 1.5 inches
Strap Width: 1.75 Inches
Strap Width: 1.85 Inches
Strap Width: 4 Inches
Strap Width: .5 Inches