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What is a Stretch Bandage?

By Alice D.
Updated May 17, 2024
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A stretch bandage is a fabric bandage that is used to hold a dressing in place over a wound. These bandages are made of a gauzelike fabric that is slightly stretchy so that it can wrap easily around difficult to bandage areas, such as elbow or knee joints. The stretch allows for some movement and a little bit of swelling. Stretch bandages can be an important part of every first-aid kit. Recorded use of this type of bandage reaches back to the ancient Egyptians. In modern emergency rooms or hospitals, a person will also see a stretch bandage being used to secure an intravenous (IV) tube or wrap a splint.

This is the kind of bandage a person would use for a long cut or an abrasion that is too large to be covered with Band-aids® or other pre-packaged bandages. It is not intended to be placed directly on the cut or wound. A sterile pad typically should be placed on the wound first and the stretch bandage then wrapped around the area to secure it. Even though these stretch bandages are only slightly stretchy, it can be important to regularly check that the bandage is not too tight. If the injured area turns bluish, tingles, or feels cold, the bandages might need to be adjusted.

Some stretch bandages, known as cohesive bandages, are designed to cling to themselves, thereby making them easy to secure. Others have an adhesive already applied to one surface. All stretch bandages, whether they have adhesive qualities or not, should be secured with bandage tape, safety pins, or by tying the ends off. To tie the ends off, a person could cut the strip in half along its length for about 6 to 10 inches (about 15.24 to 25.4 cm). A knot should be tied in it to prevent it from tearing further and then the two tails can be wrapped in opposite directions and tied together.

A stretch bandage usually can be purchased anywhere that first-aid supplies are sold. These bandages are sometimes also described as rolled gauze or roll bandages. They come in widths ranging from 1 to 4 inches (about 2.54 to 10.16 cm).

Stretch bandages typically are woven or crocheted in cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. This means that they usually are soft, comfortable, and lint-free. They usually provide some absorbency as well. It also distinguishes them from the roll bandages, such as Ace™ bandages, most often used for athletic injuries, which are made mostly of elastic materials. Some brands of stretch bandages may use latex to improve elasticity, so it can be important for a person to read the label carefully and chose the one with the most appropriate materials.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On May 18, 2014

@literally45-- I don't think that these definitions are strict because there are many different type of stretch bandages out there and companies are coming up with new and better ones all the time. For example, there is a new type of stretch bandage that sticks to itself and can protect skin or the dressing underneath. Although technically it's a stretch bandage, it's much thicker than a typical stretch bandage and it is not made of fabric. It's also being used by veterinarians to treat pets. So when it comes to first aid supplies, one supply could be used for different types of purposes.

By candyquilt — On May 17, 2014

@literally45-- Yes, they are different things and usually you cannot replace one with the other. Athletic tape is also flexible but it's thicker, made mostly of synthetic materials, non-absorbent and durable. So athletic tape is usually used to reinforce and protect a joint or to apply compression. It is never used over wounds and cannot be placed over broken skin.

Stretch bandage may not be applied directly over skin either. But it can be used over a wound with clean dressing to keep the dressing in place and prevent bleeding. Since this type of bandage is thinner and made mostly of cotton, it does not limit movement as much as athletic tape, it allows skin to breathe and can absorb blood or discharge.

By literally45 — On May 17, 2014

So I'm guessing that athletic tape and stretch bandage are different things? I can't use one in place of the other right?

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