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Ecchymosis is the scientific term for discoloration, more commonly known as a bruise. Read this lesson to learn more about ecchymosis and its definition, causes and treatment.

What is Ecchymosis?

Even if you’ve never heard the term ‘ecchymosis,’ you’ve probably seen it in action before. You likely just referred to it as a ‘bruise.’ Ecchymosis is actually the term given for discoloration in soft tissue that occurs because of compressive forces.

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Compressive forces are those forces that push down on the tissue. If the compression is superficial (or on the surface), then blood that is released because of the damage to the tissue can cause the skin to become discolored. The discoloration may appear as different hues of red, purple, yellow or blue.

Causes of Ecchymosis

Compressive forces can be a result of numerous types of direct trauma to soft tissue. This direct trauma could come from any type of force that causes a crushing of the tissues. Being hit by a baseball or hockey puck, running your leg into the end table, or slipping and falling are just a few of the possible ways in which soft tissue could be crushed.

What Happens to the Compressed Tissue?

Soft tissue, which is the tissue in your body that is composed of skin, muscle, tendons, ligaments and even fat, receives its nutrients through the blood supply that comes from capillaries, which are the smallest size blood vessels that supply blood to the body.

These capillaries are delicate tissue, and if they are compressed too much they can break and release blood and other broken down cell components. These components can then collect on or near the surface, which leads to a discoloring of the skin.

Treatment of Ecchymosis

The biggest issue with ecchymosis is determining the underlaying cause for the discoloration. Determining where the damage has occurred may be a challenge. When tissue is compressed and leads to discoloration, the discoloration may not be directly over the damaged tissue.

As damage occurs, gravity may actually pull the blood and cellular components away from the actual site of injury. Therefore, it may not be clear where the injury actually occurred.When you do determine where the damage has occurred, the treatment can then include methods to relieve the pain or discomfort.

Since ecchymosis is condition that is typically associated with an acute injury (which is sudden onset), the treatment protocol is similar to other acute injuries. You can:

  • Apply cold therapy – crushed ice is best
  • Apply cold therapy in increments of 20-30 minutes on and 40 minutes off
  • Elevate the body part 6-10 inches above the level of the heart

If ecchymosis and the underlaying tissue damage is not addressed properly, it can lead to long standing disability.

Lesson Summary

Ecchymosis is the discoloration that appears on the surface of the skin as a result of direct trauma to underlaying soft tissue.

This discoloration may be red, purple, or even yellow. Direct trauma may come in many forms, including a direct blow from some type of small object or even from a bigger event such as a fall, surgery or an accident. Proper treatment of ecchymosis includes identification and proper treatment of the true underlaying cause.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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