How to apply a tourniquet and stop a bleed

Jul 13, 2021

It’s our passion and mission to educate, equip and empower the public with the tools and knowledge they need to stop a catastrophic bleed. This is because bystanders or zero responders will always be the first person on the scene of an accident or incident. That could be any one of us; whether it’s waiting at a bus stop, doing our weekly grocery shop, or attending a concert. No matter how fast the emergency services arrive, it’s the bystander who becomes the first responder. 

Did you know it takes just two to five minutes for someone to bleed out? This simply means that the more people trained in stopping a bleed, the more lives that can be saved in those initial minutes.

When it comes to medical equipment to support us in stopping a bleed, one quick and effective method is to apply a tourniquet, which can be applied to legs and arms.

Sadly there is a myth that surrounds tourniquets – that using one means deciding between life and limb and that you may save a life but the limb below the tourniquet will be lost. This simply isn’t the case! Modern tourniquets can be safely applied for up to two hours, with little or no negative effect. 

How to apply a tourniquet:

  • Firstly, it’s important to remember that if you don’t have a tourniquet immediately available, you must apply pressure to the wound.
  • Once you have access to a tourniquet you simply open the band and place the limb inside the loop of the tourniquet.
  • The tourniquet then must be secured as tightly as possible, this is done by fully opening up the band and then pulling as tightly as you can. Take any slack out of the tourniquet.
  • The self-adhering band then must be wrapped around as much as possible.
  • From here, you can begin to stop the bleed by tightening the tourniquet with the windlass rod. It should only take two to five turns if the tourniquet has been secured tightly.
  • Once you see the bleed stop, secure the windlass with the windlass clip on the tourniquet.
  • Take any of the left over tail of the band and secure it in the windlass clip. Then secure the tail and the windlass rod with the securing strap across the clip.
  • As a last step, if you have something to write with, place the time you applied the tourniquet on the strap. If not, note the time and relay to first responders when they arrive.

Why is it important to make the tourniquet so tight?

If you don’t tighten the tourniquet, the arteries may continue to bleed as they are thicker and under more pressure.

Where on the limb should a tourniquet be placed?

Some people advise to place it two to three inches above the wound. Alternatively, military and law enforcement teach it to be applied ‘high and tight’, meaning as high as possible on the limb.

As we’ve already stated, it’s possible for a tourniquet to be applied for up to two hours without any negative consequences. For that reason, either of these positions is reasonable. 

Top tip: Never apply a tourniquet over a joint, place it above or below the joint. This is because it won’t control bleeding as sufficiently as other areas of the limb.

Applying a second tourniquet

  • If the tourniquet has been applied securely and the bleeding still hasn’t stopped, you can apply a second tourniquet.
  • Apply second tourniquet next to the existing tourniquet in the same method as above. Two tourniquets are often needed for larger limbs.
  • If a second tourniquet isn’t available, apply pressure to the wound.

Important to note:

Once a tourniquet is applied, leave it on. Do not loosen a tourniquet once it has been applied. Paramedics will remove the tourniquet once it’s appropriate to do so. By loosening the tourniquet you could lose precious blood, which is bad for the patient. 

It’s important to know that you can apply a tourniquet to an amputated or partially amputated limb, even if there is little bleeding. Without it, blood vessels will relax and life threatening bleeding will occur. 

Remember, we strongly advise you to contact your local hospital or trauma centre and take part in a stop the bleed course. It will only take one hour and a half of your time. 

For more information, check out our Education Hub on the link below which features our educational videos, featuring short ‘How To’ guides that take you through various methods of bleed control.