Risks of Rubber Band Tourniquet Use

Rubber band tourniquets (RBT) have gained popularity in the law enforcement community over the past 24 months. The compact size and nominal cost make them attractive to cash-strapped, and over loaded with respect to equipment, LEOs. Furthermore, as LEO commanders seek to outfit their personnel with live saving equipment while grappling with budget constraints, RBTs seem like a viable option. However, upon further consideration, they may not be the BEST choice due to inherit dangers of RBTs with regard to function and application.

The function of RBTs is simple: one applies it proximal to the injury, wrapping it around the limb until hemorrhage control is achieved, using the elasticity of the rubber to create greater circumferential pressure with each wrap. Initially, this seems easy and straight forward. However, due to the nature of elastic wraps one must be cautious when using one as a tourniquet, due to the difficulty in controlling the applied pressure. As noted in the Journal of Medicine and Biomedical Research, “[t]he pressure induced by the rubber bandage increases at a rate of 3 to 4 times the initial pressure when the bandage is stretched after each wrap.”(1)(3) This is dangerous due to the shearing effect generated on the underling tissues, specifically the nerves. In fact, Graham et al found that at above 300mm Hg shearing forces increased exponentially.(2)(3) With RBTs this is concerning as “[t]he pressure applied to the limb could easily exceed the safe limits and put the limb at risk of complications because the rubber bandage is capable of generating pressures in excess of 1000mmHg beneath it.” “At such extremely high pressure,” Ogbemudia continues, “neurovascular damage becomes likely and makes the use of the RBT relatively unsafe.”(1)(3) He does explain how, in a controlled environment such as a surgical suite, a RBT can be made safe by placing a BP cuff under to monitor pressure. Obviously, this is not optimal in the tactical environment.

There are also difficulties faced when applying a RBT with respect to generating adequate circumferential pressure to stop arterial hemorrhage. Applying a RBT to an extremity, especially an upper limb, mobility is required in order to wrap it around the limb a sufficient number of times. If there has been any bone involvement, this may be an excruciating affair. Furthermore, if, due to pain associated with application, the casualty does not achieve hemorrhage control, he must then un-wrap the RBT multiple times, then re-wrap it in the hopes of achieving enough pressure. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. In an attempt to generate enough pressure, one may generate too much unknowingly. Compared to a windlass-style tourniquet, for instance, one must only turn the windlass an additional 180 degrees, thereby tightening it to achieve more tension. Tourniquets issued within DOD, unlike RBTs, are difficult to over tighten when used one-handed and according to the manufacturers’ directions due to the nature of the webbing and knot interface.

Finally, when compared to standard tourniquets used by the majority of DOD and many state and local LEOs, a RBT has multiple variables that must be considered that relate to the pressure generated. In this case, variables are defined as inconsistencies between casualties and application each time a tourniquets is used. They are compared as follows:

Windlass style tourniquets have 2 variables:
1) limb circumference;
2) degrees rotated.

RBT tourniquets have 4 variables:
1) the percentage of stretch applied with each turn (composition and elasticity of the material, which affect the restoring force of the polymers);
2) the number of layers of the RBT;
3) the degree of overlap;
4) the circumference of the limb.

In the end, a RBT can be used as a field tourniquet. However, it is not the best option for LEOs. The benefits of cost savings do not outweigh the potential problems and risks associated with rubber band tourniquets.

[1] Ogbemudia A et al. Adaptation of the rubber bandage for the safe use as tourniquet. Journal of Medicine and biomedical Research 2006; Vol. 5 No. 2 pp-69-74.
[2] Graham B et al. Perinerual pressures under the pneumatic tourniquet in the upper and lower extremity. Journal of Hand Surgery 1992: 17B: 262-6.
[3] McEwen J. A. and Casey V. Measurement of hazardous pressure levels and gradients produced on human limbs by non-pneumatic tourniquets. Accessd at

LEOs and First-Aid Kits Save Lives

We received this article today noting the benefit of first-aid kits for law enforcement officers: saving lives. Because they are often the first on the scene, their being properly trained and equipped is essential.


Pima County Sheriff’s Department __ Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK) PDF

Hemostaic Primer

We often get questions regarding hemostaics:
Which is the best?
How do they work?
What is the mechanism of action?

The TCCC recommendation of Combat Gauze (TM) has clouded the issue of effectiveness with respect to other available agents. That is to say, there are others on the market that were just as effective in studies that were not chosen. Hopefully, the attached study summarizes the pros and cons of most available agents.

TCCC Hemostatics JRAMC 2010

Lessons Learned: “Four Hours of Tourniquet Time”

Below is an excerpt from a lessons learned compilation titled “First to Cut: Trauma Lessons Learned in the Combat Zone.” Though it is geared toward FST surgeons and forward medical providers, some of the lessons are applicable to tactical medics and mountain rescue. The larger take-away point is that the physiology occurring distally to a tourniquet applied for a long duration needs to be considered when changing or loosening, especially in environments where medical care may be limited (e.g., Third World).

    “Four Hours of Tourniquet Time”

    “26 y.o. male with foot traumatic amputation and
    multiple frag wounds to the right leg with a high thigh
    field tourniquet in place. Arrived to the CSH with SBP of
    100 HR of 120. we had no report on duration of the
    tourniquet. We took down the tourniquet and he promptly
    coded. We put the tourniquet back up, intubated him and
    gave him fluid and bicarb and he came back. We found
    out later that the tourniquet had been in place for over 4

    The use of tourniquets – while rare in civilian trauma is
    very common in combat injuries. Tourniquets are the
    number 1 instrument that a medic can employ to lower the
    KIA numbers. The use of tourniquet with application until
    the absence of a distal pulse by default causes distal
    ischemia. Release of a functioning tourniquet after several
    hours can result in the release of acidic fluid and potassium.
    The patient intubated and without a head injury can be
    briefly hyperventilated. Before taking down a long
    duration tourniquet make sure the patient is well hydrated,
    resuscitated, adding an ampule of sodium bicarbonate or
    THAM can prophylax against the release of “bad humors”,
    lactic acid, and potassium. Also release the tourniquet
    slowly – if the rare arrhythmia arises re–employ the
    tourniquet and retry after further bicarb and fluid. If the leg
    is necrotic remember “life before limb” and perform an

    Lessons Learned:
    –Prolonged tourniquet times can result in the release
    of acidotic fluid and hyperkalemia
    –Perform 4 compartment fasciotomy with all lower
    extremities with significant tourniquet times

Casualty as a Fluid Infusion Device: IV Bag Placement


This study was designed to identify the most effective underbody
position when using the patient’s own body weight as an
infusion device. Twenty volunteers had an air-less 500ml bag of
saline located at various under-body positions. Mean pressures
and flow rates through a 14G cannula were measured in vitro at
room temperature. Locating the fluid bag at the buttock cleft
delivered the highest mean flow rate at 135ml/min. This underbody position may provide flow rates sufficient to achieve the clinical aim of fluid resuscitation in the military pre-hospital

Fluid Infusion IV Bags

A dictum of tactical medicine is to carry equipment that has dual use. In the case of fluid infusion, medics are instructed to use their blood pressure cuffs or the patient if no other device is available. Medics have the option of carrying pre-made fluid infusers or an extra BP cuff, but the former violates the rule of dual use and the latter may be too bulky. The above article offers a valid, though not new, solution, because it explores the best location if a medic chooses to use the casualty.

Antibiotic Impregnated Bandages for Penetrating Trauma

Early use of anti-biotics in combat trauma is now commonplace amongst most military medical circles. The liberal use of antibiotics in a tactical or combat environment has spawned numerous products to ease the process. Some of the items are very useful while others have little suitability to the injuries associated with trauma created by high-velocity fragments or penetrating trauma.

Antibiotics currently recommended for administration in the tactical environment generally are in pill or injectable form and they function on a systemic level instead of a local level. When considering the depth of the injuries associated with combat, placing a bandage impregnated with an antibiotic on the surface of an injury is almost senseless. It will serve to minimize or eliminate microbial activity at the surface of the wound, but it does nothing for the majority of the injury.

The real danger is when this type of dressing is used as a substitute for administering antibiotics in the field. Topical antibiotic treatment of penetrating trauma is similar to attempting to drink water without opening your mouth. You will wet your lips, which might make you feel better, but does little to help hydrate the body. These dressings do serve a purpose, however. For lacerations, abrasions and burns they are a sensible solution, but you wouldn’t treat a gunshot wound with Bacitracin. Therefore, don’t rely on the same concept in a different form. Administration of systemic antibiotics is the current accepted standard for combat trauma. Don’t accept anything less if you have the choice.

Tourniquet Use in Pre-hospital Civilian Trauma Care

Tourniquets are an effective means of arresting life-threatening
external haemorrhage from limb injury. Their use has not
previously been accepted practice for pre-hospital civilian
trauma care because of significant concerns regarding the
potential complications. However, in a few rare situations
tourniquet application will be necessary and life-saving. This
review explores the potential problems and mistrust of
tourniquet use; explains the reasons why civilian pre-hospital
tourniquet use may be necessary; defines the clear indications
for tourniquet use in external haemorrhage control; and
provides practical information on tourniquet application and
removal. Practitioners need to familiarise themselves with
commercial pre-hospital tourniquets and be prepared to use
one without irrational fear of complications in the appropriate

See Paper Here: TQs in Civilian Trauma Care

Use of Hemostatic Agents

It is important to understand that science has not yet isolated the compounds essential in the production of fairy dust. Modern hemostatic agents require proper technique and training to function properly. Simply placing these products onto or into wounds does not solve all of your problems. If members of your organization are issued hemostatic agents, it is essential that they are trained on the agents and fully understand their limitations.

There are four steps you ought to follow when using hemostatic agents:

    1) Prep your equipment. Set yourself up for success by having all required components ready before addressing a bleed (i.e., agent, gauze, and bandage).

    2) Identify the bleed. Placing or pouring an agent onto or into a wound without identifying the bleed is unwise. If you have a large cavity that requires hemostatic agent, you must make sure the agent is placed DIRECTLY ONTO THE damaged vessels in order for it to work. Otherwise, you are wasting blood cells and agent.

    3) Proper placement. After identifying the bleed, you must ensure the agent is placed DIRECTLY ONTO THE BLEEDER. If you do not, you run the risk of creating a “crust” made of blood and agent above the vessels. In so doing, you have visibly stopped the bleeding by forming a large clot, but it has not stopped the bleed.

    4) Pressure. Hemostatic agents do not relive you of the basics that are required for hemorrhage control. After using a hemostatic agent, you MUST place gauze behind it in order to create pressure, so as to allow a clot to form. Otherwise, you run the risk of the agent being washed away or of a “crust” forming and creating a hematoma. It is also necessary to use the gauze to hold the agent in place and prevent it from shifting during patient movement. A minor shift during movement can cause a re-bleed which could be fatal if overlooked during re-assessments


    1) Can the basics stop the bleed?
    2) Is the casualty hypothermic? If so, clotting is a factor.
    3) External environmental factors. For example, wind (or rotorwash) may blow a powder agent into the casualty’s or your eyes.
    4) Location of injury (e.g., face, neck, abdomen).
    5) Staying basic with the basics
    6) Training is a must. If end-users (i.e., medics, operators, officers) do not know the basics of hemorrhage control, then using hemostatic agents is not wise.

Wound Packing: Techniques and Considerations

The ability to pack a wound is an essential skill for the tactical medic. While a tourniquet is an excellent tool for controlling hemorrhage in extremity trauma, there are many areas that do not allow proper application of a tourniquet. The video on wound packing was produced to show the fundamentals of wound packing.

    A. Identify the bleed
    B. Pack into the bleed
    C. Pack tightly to the bone if possible

A. Identify the bleed-
It is essential that the medic identify the source of the serious hemorrhage. Simply stuffing gauze into a cavity is not always effective. Often times the pressure is not applied where it is needed and the gauze only acts as a sponge. What makes packing a wound effective is that is provides focused pressure directly on the damaged vessel. By occluding the lumen of the vessel with the gauze you get hemorrhage control. If it is not completely controlled it at least slows the hemorrhage to a point where the body’s natural clotting factors can interact with the gauze to form a clot. There are three main methods to identify the location of a bleed.

    1. Visualization
    Visualization is the preferred method, but it is often unrealistic due to ballistic patterns, flooding of cavities and tissue movement. Excess blood filling the cavity can be scooped out to give a quick look, but on high pressure bleeds and blast injuries this can be very difficult.

    2. Tactile assessment
    Feel works well if you are in a relatively calm mental state and have complete awareness of your senses. It is not a reliable source when you have been carrying heavy loads, firing weapons for long periods of time or participating in any activity that has caused your hands to fatigue. It’s also unreliable if you are wearing multiple layers of gloves.

    3. Anatomy
    A basic understanding of the vascular structure of the human body goes a long way in this situation. It isn’t as good of an indicator as visualizing the bleed, but if you are pressed for time it can be a good solution. It is best when used in conjunction with the other methods. It is also helpful when determining the best angle to pack from.

B. Pack into the Bleed
Notice what the section is titled, “Pack into the bleed”. It does not say pack into the wound. Your first few sections of gauze should go directly to the source of the major hemorrhage. After that hemorrhage has been staunched, the remaining gauze should be packed tightly around it to keep it in place. Your goal is NOT to create a sponge inside the wound, but a solid mass that applies pressure where it is needed. This is a very important point. An often-asked question is, “how much blood does the Olaes bandage absorb?” The answer is this: hopefully none. The purpose of bandages is not to absorb the most blood, it is to STOP bleeding, in order to keep blood where it needs to be: in the body. You don’t put bandages on to keep your vehicle clean.

C. Pack to the bone
The major vessels of the body are not inside muscular tissue! Most vessels run near the major bones in the body. If the wound is in a location that allows you to use the bone as a rigid object to maintain pressure on the damaged vessel, use it. Start by packing into the bleeder, and then use the gauze to squeeze the vessel between it and the bone. This creates the same effect as a vascular tourniquet, or simply holding pressure with your finger.

Educating medical directors and command surgeons in the importance of wound packing is essential. The ability to pack wounds is a necessary skill in an environment with the potential for delayed evacuation times and limited manpower. The idea that you will hold direct pressure for 3-5 minutes during a fire fight is ridiculous. Packing a wound reduces the need for this and frees the medic’s hands up to engage more important things, like the enemy. When used in conjunction with hemostatic agents, it is even more effective. We will cover how these two work together in a future entry.