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Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

How to Save a Life with a Tourniquet

After a severe injury, a person can bleed out in under five minutes. Having and using a tourniquet can save someone’s life.

As we go into spring, the likeliness of outdoor-related injuries rises, and, unfortunately, the chance of gun violence, is two times as likely in large cities like Philadelphia.  We spoke with Nora Kramer, RN, and Amy Lipsett, RN, from the Jefferson Health Trauma team to show us how to properly use a tourniquet on yourself or others.

According to the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, someone who is severely bleeding can bleed out in under five minutes. Protecting yourself and others from injuries can seem overwhelming, but with a simple tool, a tourniquet, and strategies, you may be able to help save a life.  It is important to remember that a tourniquet does not replace necessary medical care, but it does give a person more time to get to a medical professional. Kramer advises that when applied correctly, a tourniquet extends someone’s time to get to a medical professional.

When to Use a Tourniquet 

There are many reasons that life-threatening bleeding can occur. Kramer says that tourniquets are frequently mentioned in conversations around assault weapons, but that isn’t their only purpose. “Injuries ranging from car accidents to woodshop accidents to even shark bites are all reasons a tourniquet can be necessary.” In such instances, you may notice blood spurting out of the wound, blood pooling on the ground, bandages becoming soaked with blood, or a bleeding victim becoming confused or unconscious.

@jeffersonhealth Our #trauma team shows you how to stop the bleed after an #injury. #tourniquet #howto #medicaltiktok #woundcare #healthcare #firstaid #firstresponders ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

How to Use a Tourniquet

Understanding how to successfully apply and use a tourniquet is essential. Before applying one, ensure that you are safe and call EMS through 9-1-1. Find the wound and open or remove clothing in the way and apply pressure with a clean cloth. It’s best to do this while wearing gloves whenever possible, says Kramer.

a combat action tourniquet on a red shirt from the stop the bleed trauma team.

This tourniquet is called a combat application tourniquet, commonly called a CAT tourniquet.

Then, apply the tourniquet two to three inches above the wound to stop the bleeding and always avoid the elbow and knee. For example, if the injury is on the forearm near the elbow, you would apply the tourniquet above the elbow to stay close to the wound.

Once applied, pull the tourniquet as tight as possible and do not pass the clip of the tourniquet with the strap. This is very important because this is where you will twist the rod to cut off circulation to stop the bleeding.

With many tourniquets, there will be a place to write down the time it was used, which will be important to the medical provider when the victim receives care. It is essential to keep the tourniquet on for the medical provider who is assessing the patient.

How to Apply a Tourniquet to Yourself

If you get injured and have a tourniquet, you can apply the tourniquet to yourself. You want to slow down the bleeding as quickly as possible to avoid becoming dizzy or fainting.

Put the tourniquet on and pull as tightly as possible without passing the clip. Use the rod to twist around to tighten and place into the clip and put the excess strap over the rod. This will cut off the circulation to the wound, stopping the bleeding. If you are able, add the time you applied the tourniquet.

What If You Don’t Own a Tourniquet? 

While Kramer advises that anyone with a medical bag carry a tourniquet, she understands that an incident may occur when you don’t have one on hand. What can you do in this situation? T-shirts can save lives, Kramer says. “With a t-shirt, apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleed while you await medical attention,” Kramer explains.  “It’s essential to continue to apply pressure the whole time to help extend the person’s time while waiting to get to a medical professional. If someone is bleeding from an arm, a leg, their abdomen, anywhere, all you need to do is apply pressure and stop the bleed.”


Tourniquets are helpful and necessary for any medical bag and can be purchased online or at many different stores for under $20.

From the Experts