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J Spec Oper Med. Winter 2016;16(4):15-26.

Significant Pressure Loss Occurs Under Tourniquets Within Minutes of Application.



Pressure decreases occur after tourniquet application, risking arterial occlusion loss. Our hypothesis was that the decreases could be mathematically described, allowing creation of evidence-based, tourniquet-reassessment- time recommendations.


Four tourniquets with width (3.8cm, 3.8cm, 13.7cm, 10.4cm), elasticity (none, none, mixed elastic/nonelastic, elastic), and mechanical advantage differences (windlass, ratchet, inflation, recoil) were applied to 57.5cm-circumference 10% and 20% ballistic gels for 600 seconds and a 57.5cmcircumference thigh and 31.5cm-circumference arm for 300 seconds. Time 0 target completion-pressures were 262mmHg and 362mmHg.


Two-phase decay equations fit the pressure-loss curves. Tourniquet type, gel or limb composition, circumference, and completionpressure affected the curves. Curves were clinically significant with the nonelastic Combat Application Tourniquet (C-A-T), nonelastic Ratcheting Medical Tourniquet (RMT), and mixed elastic/nonelastic blood pressure cuff (BPC), and much less with the elastic Stretch Wrap And Tuck-Tourniquet (SWATT). At both completion-pressures, pressure loss was faster on 10% than 20% gel, and even faster and greater on the thigh. The 362mmHg completion-pressure had the most pressure loss. Arm curves were different from thigh but still approached plateau pressure losses (maximal calculated losses at infinity) in similar times. With the 362mmHg completion-pressure, thigh curve plateaus were -68mmHg C-A-T, -62mmHg RMT, -34mmHg BPC, and -13mmHg SWATT. The losses would be within 5mmHg of plateau by 4.67 minutes C-A-T, 6.00 minutes RMT, 4.98 minutes BPC, and 6.40 minutes SWATT and within 1mmHg of plateau by 8.18 minutes C-A-T, 10.52 minutes RMT, 10.07 minutes BPC, and 17.68 minutes SWATT. Timesequenced images did not show visual changes during the completion to 300 or 600 seconds pressure-drop interval.


Proper initial tourniquet application does not guarantee maintenance of arterial occlusion. Tourniquet applications should be reassessed for arterial occlusion 5 or 10 minutes after application to be within 5mmHg or 1mmHg of maximal pressure loss. Elastic tourniquets have the least pressure loss.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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