by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Video: How to Apply a Tourniquet Properly | The Survival DoctorTourniquets have been on my mind lately. It’s a shame many people don’t know how to properly apply one to stop bleeding. It’s so easy. But, like most things, someone has to show you before you can learn.

I read of a man bitten on his thigh by a beaver. The large femoral artery that runs from the groin down the inner thigh was severed, and the man bled to death. My first thought was, maybe he could have been saved if someone had known how to stop the bleeding—in particular, how to apply a tourniquet.

Then I read about a man in a Home Depot sawing deeply into his arms, apparently on purpose. A quick-thinking fire captain applied a tourniquet around each arm and, yes, saved the man’s life.

But you also have to know how to combine methods. A woman recently came up to me after a wound-treatment talk I gave at the Get Prepared Expo in Missouri. She told me her husband’s inner upper arm was once cut with some sheet metal and he almost bled to death. Someone applied a tourniquet, but it didn’t help much. Fortunately, the good ol’ paramedics and EMTs arrived in time. But I thought, if his colleagues who tried to help had only known what else they could have done, in addition to the tourniquet, to stop bleeding.

All this made me check my past posts on how to stop bleeding only to discover that, although I mention tourniquets as a last resort to save a life (and they should be a last resort since the person may very well lose a limb even if the tourniquet is applied properly), I haven’t explained the correct way to apply one.

After you watch the video a time or two, practice on yourself or some volunteer so you’ll know what to do if the time comes when you need one. Don’t practice this if you bleed easily since the tourniquet could cause a bruise. Also, don’t practice on someone with “poor circulation.”

  1. Find your radial pulse. It’s on the inside of your wrist. Just follow your thumb to your wrist, press down with two fingers, and you should be able to find it.
  2. Apply the tourniquet to your upper arm and tighten until you can’t feel your pulse.

That’s it. Take it off right away, of course. Even if you’re applying it for real, you want to loosen it every few minutes to try to get some blood flow to the rest of your arm and hand, or leg and foot—and get expert medical help as soon as possible.

What do you think? Did you try it? Did it work?

One last thing. As I talk about in the video, whether it’s pressure or pulse points, or a tourniquet, you don’t have to go with just one method at a time to stop bleeding.

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