First Aid Kits: The Whats and Hows of Tourniquets

A tourniquet is a constricting or compressing band used to stop heavy bleeding by exerting pressure on the blood vessels. Such bands can be used in situations where the best, and sometimes, only option to save a life is stopping blood flow. Despite their importance, a lot of people aren’t familiar with what they do, how they should be used, and how they should not be used.  

Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) 

A Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) is a small and lightweight tourniquet that can be self-applied or applied by a partner. The essential tourniquets medical devices are used to stop blood flow in the event of life-threatening bleeding, either due to trauma or injury.

There are two versions of the CAT: the original model with a nylon strap, and the newer second-generation model which has a hook and loop strap. The newer model is typically easier to use since it’s easier to adjust. However, both models are effective and will save lives.

Both versions of the CAT come in a small pouch that can be attached to various places on your body or gear, such as your belt, plate carrier, tactical vest, backpack, or even medical kit. The pouch has a black pull tab that you can quickly pull to release the tourniquet from its pouch in an emergency situation.

tourniquets medical

The nice thing about the CAT is that it comes pre-made and you don’t have to assemble it at home like other tourniquets. This means you can always have one ready to go whenever you need it. Another benefit of this type of tourniquet is that it is easy for someone else to apply if you have been injured and cannot do it yourself. However, only use a tourniquet if medical help will not be available within an hour or so.  

Special Operations Force Tactical (SOFT) Tourniquet 

A Special Operations Force Tactical (SOFT) Tourniquet is a new type of tourniquet that is changing the way we treat severe bleeding. The SOFT tourniquet can be applied with one hand and it has a rotating windlass that makes tightening easy and quick. These two features combine to make the SOFT tourniquet a great tool in the civilian first aid kit.

If you’ve ever seen an injury with severe bleeding, you know how scary it can be. In those situations, every second counts. If you have a tourniquet in your first aid kit, you can stop the bleeding before the person loses too much blood and goes into shock. Most standard tourniquets are difficult to apply, especially on yourself or if there’s any tension on the limb. The SOFT tourniquet solves this problem by being easy to use since you can apply it with one hand only.  

How to Use It 

When you find yourself in a situation where someone has an open wound that is not stopping, you need to know how to use a tourniquet. Keep in mind:

  1. A tourniquet should be used as a last resort.  
  2. Stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound with a clean cloth or your hands while wearing sterile gloves if possible.  
  3. If the injury is to the arm or leg, raise it above the heart if possible. This will slow down blood flow and allow clotting to begin faster.  
  4. If there is no improvement after 10 minutes, put on a tourniquet only if you can’t get the person to a hospital within 30 minutes.  
  5. The tourniquet should be put just above the bleeding site but not on a joint or directly over the wound.  
  6. Place a stick under the band so you can tighten it by twisting it into place.  
  7. Check the tourniquet every 15 minutes to make sure it’s working properly and still needed. Loosen it for 5 minutes every hour while waiting for medical help.  

When to Use It 

Just as mentioned above, tourniquets medical devices should only be used as a last resort. There are a few reasons for this:

  • First, you never want to use more force than is necessary. A tourniquet could cause serious damage if not applied properly.
  • Second, you don’t want to use one unless absolutely necessary because it will cut off blood flow which means that the tissue below that point will start dying after about two hours. This is generally considered an acceptable risk if there is no other way to stop the bleeding.
  • Third, once it’s on, you can’t let go until a doctor or EMT (emergency medical technician) can remove it.  

To Sum Up  

A tourniquet can be a lifesaving device but should never be used as an alternative or replacement for proper first aid. Instead, it is best to use the tourniquet as a last resort in emergency situations where severe bleeding cannot otherwise stop. In these situations, employing a tourniquet will likely save the life of the victim as no other option would likely work.

To that end, it is always a good idea to keep a tourniquet with you when outdoors. This is true whenever you are far from medical help, but also if you are planning on using tools like axes and chainsaws. A tourniquet could make all the difference if one was needed while using these types of tools in an accident or emergency.