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Supporting Professionals Who Care

A Guide to using a Tourniquet


Tourniquets are a vital part of any first aiders medical kit bag. Dating back to the fourth century BC where they were used to ease the bleeding of wounded soldiers.

In 1718, tourniquets were first used in surgery and in 1785 were advocated as an essential piece of equipment for Royal Navy sailors to carry.


Now, tourniquets are used in hospitals, by medical professionals, in combat and in mass injury situations.


Elevation is often thought of as an immediate action when someone suffers a catastrophic bleed, however, this alone will not stop the bleeding. Applying direct pressure is more effective to ease the bleeding, especially if life-threatening.

The European Resuscitation Council 2021 guidelines advise that tourniquets should be used for life-threatening bleeding from wounds on limbs in a location amenable to the use of a tourniquet (i.e. arm or leg wounds, traumatic amputations).


They should also be part of a first aid kit, where catastrophic bleeding is likely, as they can provide life-saving relief from haemorrhages.

Tourniquets are used to apply a huge amount of pressure to a limb, without stopping the flow of blood completely. It’s important to understand the correct way to use a tourniquet, as although they have saved countless lives they are frequently misused.

  • Consideration for the application of a manufactured tourniquet as soon as possible.
  • Place the tourniquet around the traumatised limb three fingers above the wound but not over a joint.
  • Tighten the tourniquet until the bleeding slows and stops. This may be extremely painful for the casualty.
  • Maintain the tourniquet pressure.
  • Note the time the tourniquet was applied.
  • Do not release the tourniquet the tourniquet must only be released by a healthcare professional.
  • Take the casualty to the hospital immediately for further medical care.
  • In some cases, it may require the application of two tourniquets in parallel to slow or stop the bleeding.

If a manufactured tourniquet is not immediately available, or if bleeding is uncontrolled with the use of a manufactured tourniquet, apply direct manual pressure, with a gloved hand, a gauze dressing, or if available, a haemostatic dressing.


Consider the use of an improvised tourniquet only if a manufactured tourniquet is not available, direct manual pressure (gloved hand, gauze dressing or haemostatic dressing) fails to control life-threatening bleeding, and the first aid provider is trained in the use of improvised tourniquets. As medical equipment has advanced over the years, tourniquets have also evolved to make it easier and faster for medical professionals to apply them to patients.

To make it simpler to decide which tourniquet is the best fit to carry in your medical bag, we have listed the key points about the most popular tourniquet choices in our blog page here.