It happens to all of us from time to time: a total klutz moment. Maybe you’re dragging after a long run, trip up the stairs, and bang your shin on the step below. Or there’s always the bump your head on the car trunk/gym locker/open cabinet moment. (Just me?) Regardless of how they happen, bruises—or an area of discolored skin typically caused by a blow or impact that ruptures blood vessels under the skin—are always a bit alarming. They’re also highly prevalent in runners.
“It’s common for us to see patients who have bruising, firstly because maybe they literally bumped into something, and they didn’t realize it,” says Dennis Cardone, D.O., chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Health. “But it’s also common for runners to get microscopic blood vessel tears when they are pushing the envelope—say in a speed workout or an endurance event like a marathon—and that too alone can lead to some bruising in certain areas.”
The other types of bruising that’s common for us include black and blue marks that result from tears or strains, as well as the oh-so-lovable black toenails—which present with bruising and discoloration under the nail. Feel like you’re seeing bruises all the time? Some individuals may be more prone to bruising than others, and there are a handful of reasons why.
It’s important to note, firstly, that age plays a factor. As we age, blood vessels become more fragile, says Cardone, and we’ll see bruising more commonly on openly exposed areas such as the arms and legs. Then, take a look at what medications or supplements you’re taking. Certain ones—including ibuprofen, fish oil, and ginkgo biloba—thin the blood. When this happens, your blood’s ability to clot slows down or decreases, which can make you more prone to bruising, says Blake Dircksen, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and doctor of physical therapy at Bespoke Physical Therapy in New York City. Of course, blood thinners will also have this same effect.
But when should you be concerned? If bruising happens frequently enough that your running buds are asking a lot of questions, staring at your spotted legs, then you should likely be asking questions, too. While some sporadic bruising is nothing to be alarmed about and won’t affect your performance, Cardone says it could be indicative of a few holes in your training or nutrition—both things you can consult with a physician about.
“If you’re just getting up and out and not priming the muscle for activity with some sort of warm-up, this could be a lot of overload to the muscle in a rare case and cause bruising,” says Cardone. “So, maybe it’s time to holistically look at your approach. Include a warm-up, and instead of just pounding out 40+ miles a week, add in cross-training to help with potential bruising.”
What you eat and drink may play a role, too. “You need to make sure that you’re hydrated enough, as that affects how viscus—or thick—your blood is,” says Dircksen. “If you have thick blood, it’s tougher for the heart to pump that through. If there’s damage done to your blood vessels, nutrition will be especially important. So, think amino acids and proteins, nutrients—like vitamin D and C—that will help rebuild the muscle and strengthen the vessels.”
The bad news: There’s not really anything that will instantly make those suckers go away. But the good news is that there are a few other tactics can help speed up the healing process.
Start with 15- to 20-minute icing intervals, suggests Cardone, for the first few days after you notice the discoloration. The cold temperature slows blood flow in that area, reducing the amount that’s leaking out of your vessels. Inversely, avoid heat at all costs, he says. “Heat causes more bleeding and blood flow to the area, which is the opposite of what we want.”
Depending where the bruise is, using kinesiology tape could help, says Dircksen. Medical University of Warsaw researchers found that using the elastic sports tape could assist reduce bruising and joint oedema (swelling). Make sure the first time you apply tape to the area, you’re doing it with the help of a professional—like a physical therapist or trainer well-versed in use.
K Tape Options
This is the OG kinesiology tape on the market. The high-grade, 100 percent cotton tape is especially good for sensitive skin.
Made from 97 percent cotton and 3 percent nylon, RockTape has 180 percent stretch. Plus, it’s made for extreme environments (and water-resistant), which means it really sticks to your skin.
This uber-popular tape is made from 100 percent synthetic materials, but it’s still moisture-wicking and breathable.