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What is an Elastic Bandage?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated May 17, 2024
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An elastic bandage, also known as a compression bandage or wrap, is a stretchable bandage that comes in various sizes. These can be used to hold a splint securely on the body, or to limit blood flow to a wounded area. Elastic bandages are used by wrapping the length of the bandage multiple times around the wound or area to be compressed. Velcro or metal clips are then typically used to hold the bandage in place, preventing it from slipping off of the desired location. When using any type of elastic bandage, the key in application is to wrap it tightly enough to achieve the desired pressure, while avoiding cutting off of circulation altogether.

In their earliest form, these bandages were made of latex and rubber, however, most elastic bandages are now composed of varying levels of cotton, polyester, and elastic yarn. The amount of each component in the bandage determines how much stretch and compression it will have. Suppliers may offer an array of grades — from simple household use, to levels of compression needed by paramedics or other emergency personnel. Some emergency personnel, such as police departments, also carry elastic bandages and train members to use them, in case they encounter a severe injury.

Introductory first aid courses typically include a session on how to properly use an elastic bandage, as they are commonly found in most first aid kits. When wrapping any injury, instructors advise that the bandage be overlapped one-half to one-third of its width each time it is wound around the affected area. This allows for a buffer zone on each side of the wound site, and also creates more even pressure across the region. First aid courses also generally recommend that an elastic bandage not be tied or clipped in any joint or area with a great deal of movement, such as the inside of the elbow or the back of the knee.

A very common type of elastic bandage is what is known as a cohesive or adhesive bandage. This type bandage is intended to stick to itself, but not to hair or skin, which eliminates the need for clips or Velcro. Small amounts of medical tape are often still applied to hold this type in place. An adhesive bandage is easily removed, so, unlike some other types of wound coverings, there is no need for scissors or other instruments when it must be taken off. Generally, these types of elastic bandages are not latex-free, so people allergic to rubber or latex may want to choose to use another product, if possible.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On May 18, 2014

@serensurface-- You're absolutely right. Elastic bandages are used for sports injuries, it's actually a part of RICE treatment. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This is the main treatment used after sports injuries and an elastic bandage is used for compression. It's great for sprains and keeps inflammation low.

By serenesurface — On May 17, 2014
@ZipLine-- I'm not an expert on this topic but I don't think that stretch bandages are used for compression. Stretch bandages are usually thinner and apply little to no pressure whereas elastic bandages are thicker and made to apply pressure.

Like the article said, elastic bandages are mostly used for compression, to limit blood flow to the area. So it's used around or near a wound to reduce bleeding until the person can receive treatment at a hospital. I think elastic bandage could also be used in some types of sports injuries.

Stretch bandages on the other hand are used to keep dressing in place and clean. They are also flexible but have a looser weave to leave room for swelling. But they are not used to compress the area or reduce bleeding. Stretch bandages can be used on joints unlike elastic bandages.

By ZipLine — On May 17, 2014

What is the difference between an elastic bandage and a stretch bandage? How do I know which type to get?

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