How to Treat Bruises After Sporting Injuries

Bruises are caused by an accumulation of blood in the soft tissue. Sporting injuries often result in bruises, but they're very simple to treat.
How to Treat Bruises After Sporting Injuries

Last update: 17 May, 2020

Bruises after sporting injuries are common in almost all contact sports. Basketball players, soccer players, and rugby players will all suffer from bruises. They’re also common in high-impact individual sports, such as climbing, tennis, and long-distance running.

A bruise is basically an accumulation of blood in the soft tissue due to the rupture of the blood vessels. The blood leaves the circulatory system and is deposited under the skin, in the muscle, or in the bone.

A key characteristic of bruises is their color. It changes over time due to the chemical changes of the hemoglobin in the blood and is an indicator of the healing process.

Depending on where on the body your bruise is, there are three different types:

  • Bone bruise: this is the deepest type of bruise and is found in the bone itself.
  • Intramuscular: this is when blood builds up between muscle fibers and is a typical sign of a tear.
  • Subcutaneous: this is the most common type of bruise and is located just beneath the surface of the skin.


The most obvious symptom of an intermuscular or subcutaneous bruise is that you’ll be able to see it. Bone bruises, on the other hand, aren’t visible and can only be detected with imaging techniques.

Rugby players in the middle of a game.

As well as being able to see the bruise, there’s usually pain and inflammation. The pain is caused by the pressure that the blood exerts on neighboring tissues. Imagine that this build-up of blood is now occupying space that was previously taken up by other tissues.

Subcutaneous and intramuscular hematomas are tender and painful and even increase the sensitivity of the skin around the bruise. Some bruises hurt so much that it’s difficult or impossible to wear clothes around the affected area.

Intramuscular bruises are accompanied by reduced muscle strength. The fibers of the affected muscle will have altered and expanded because of the bruise, making it difficult to use, particularly in sports.

Muscle tears and bruises

Muscle tears are one of the most common sports injuries and one of the ones that athletes fear the most. The breakdown of muscle fibers is a classic cause of intramuscular bruises.

A muscle tear is when muscle fibers break, either because of a contraction or a sudden stretch. The legs are commonplace to tear a muscle and, as a result, often suffer bruising.

There are three categories of muscle tear:

  • Grade 1: this is the mildest. The affected region hurts and the bruise may be very small or not visible at all.
  • Grade 2: in this case, the bruise will be clearly visible and there will be some loss of muscle strength or functionality.
  • Grade 3: this is a large rupture and will probably require surgery. The area will normally show extensive bruising that may require surgical drainage.


A bruise caused by a sporting injury can either resolve itself or run into complications. It all depends on how you react to it or treat it.

The main thing to avoid is infection. An infected bruise will require antibiotics and surgical therapy to drain the area of the infection.

Another serious complication is compartment syndrome. This is caused by pressure on nerves and blood vessels and shouldn’t be left ignored. If needed, the bruise should be drained.

How to treat bruises

In general, bruises are simple to treat. The first thing to do is rest the affected area until you’re able to see a doctor or physio.

A woman applying a cold compress to treat bruises.

Applying a cold compress is another measure that you can take straight away. Apply the compress to the bruise several times a day, for short periods of time. Be sure to use a cloth to separate the ice pack from the skin.

Bandaging the bruise is also recommended. It doesn’t need to compress the bruise, but it does need to exert a certain pressure to stop bloody building up further and speed up reabsorption.

Under absolutely no circumstances should you drain a bruise. The only people who should carry out this procedure are trained health professionals. This is because there is a high risk of infection or complications caused by compartment syndrome.

Finally, consult your doctor before you take any medication. Depending on your situation and health conditions, they might help, but you should let a professional decide the appropriate medication to take.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • González Iturri, Juan José. Lesiones musculares y deporte. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte 4.2 (1998): 39-44.
  • Olivera, G., M. S. Holgado, and J. Cabello. Lesiones deportivas frecuentes en atención primaria. FMC-Formación Médica Continuada en Atención Primaria 8.5 (2001): 307-320.
  • Gimeno, Silvio Rubio, and Manuel Chamorro. Lesiones en el deporte. Arbor 165.650 (2000): 203-225.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.