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Swelling or Bruising After a Skin Injury

Topic Overview

Slight swelling, bruising, and tenderness around a cut, bite, scrape, or puncture wound is normal. Swelling or bruising that develops slowly over 6 to 12 hours usually means a minor injury. If your symptoms improve with home treatment, do not involve a joint, and are not caused by infection, you probably do not need to have the injury checked by your doctor.

Injury to the skin may also break small blood vessels under the skin and cause more swelling and bruising than you would expect. Rapid swelling or bruising that begins immediately after a skin injury often means there is a large amount of bleeding or that damage to deeper tissues is present. You may need to have a skin injury checked by your doctor if a lot of swelling or bruising occurred within 30 minutes of the injury.

Puncture wounds caused by the injection of a substance under high pressure into the skin need immediate medical treatment. You may not have any obvious symptoms at first, even though the injury is severe, or the injured area may swell rapidly.

Swelling in a joint may mean injury to the joint structures or an infection. Swelling around a wound near a joint may limit your ability to move the joint, and the joint may feel tight or stiff.

Crushing injuries usually occur when a limb is caught between two objects. A minor crush injury, such as shutting a fingertip in a car door, will cause swelling and bruising. This is usually not serious and does not cause any severe blood loss or loss of function. Minor crush injuries can usually be treated at home.

Crushing injuries that involve a significant force over a large area of the body, such as a hand getting caught between two heavy objects or a foot being run over by a heavy object, are more serious. Swelling is common after a crush injury. These types of crush injuries can cause severe swelling and may damage underlying tissues, such as blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, or bones. The force may cause the skin to actually split open or scrape off during the injury. These injuries are at an increased risk of infection, because of decreased blood flow to the area and tissue damage. Medical treatment is needed to prevent loss of function, restore circulation to the injured area, and prevent infection.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised June 6, 2012

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