A bruise is an area of skin discoloration. A bruise occurs when small blood vessels break and leak their contents into the soft tissue beneath the skin.
There are three types of bruises:
Bruises can last from days to months. A bone bruise is the most severe and painful.
Bruises are often caused by falls, sports injuries, car accidents, or blows received from other people or objects.
If you take a blood thinner, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), you are likely to bruise more easily.
Main symptoms are pain, swelling, and skin discoloration. The bruise begins as a pinkish red color that can be very tender to touch. It is often difficult to use the muscle that has been bruised. For example, a deep thigh bruise is painful when you walk or run.
Eventually, the bruise changes to a bluish color, then greenish-yellow, and finally returns to the normal skin color as it heals.
In the rare case of compartment syndrome, surgery is often done to relieve the extreme buildup of pressure.
Call your health care provider right away if you feel extreme pressure in a bruised part of your body, especially if the area is large or very painful. This may be due to a condition known as compartment syndrome. Increased pressure on the soft tissues and structures beneath the skin can decrease the supply of blood and oxygen to the tissues. This can be life-threatening and you should receive emergency care.
Also call your provider if:
Because bruises are usually the direct result of an injury, the following are important safety recommendations:
Buttaravoli P, Leffler SM. Contusion. In: Buttaravoli P, Leffler SM. Minor Emergencies. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 137.
Safran MR, Zachazewski J, Stone DA. Contusions. In: Safran MR, Zachazewski J, Stone DA. Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:266-267.
Last reviewed on: 4/11/2015
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.