Is it just a bruise? Recognising spider veins after injury

So what actually causes bruises? They are caused by tiny blood vessels called capillaries that break or burst under the skin’s surface. You may also notice the smaller red and blue web-like structures too. These could be spider veins: small damaged blood vessels under the skin that are now visible. Whilst sometimes uncomfortable, bruises are part and parcel of life and spider veins are too, with studies suggesting that more than 80% of the general population3 will develop telangiectasis (spider veins) at some point in their lives. Over time they can get progressively worse4, and while harmless, you may find that you become more conscious of them. Bruises and spider veins are caused by different things and often there is confusion as to their likely cause. With this in mind, it’s helpful to understand the difference between spider veins and bruising.

What causes bruising?

Bruises are caused when blood vessels (capillaries) burst. The small blood vessels beneath the skin are especially fragile, and if they’re damaged blood leaks into surrounding tissue and becomes trapped underneath the skin. Injuries that cause bruising include cuts, blunt force traumas (like a slip, fall or punch), bone fractures, and breaks. Bruises take on a different colour from the rest of your skin, typically black or blue. Over time, as the body repairs itself, the colour of the bruise will change becoming yellow, green or even red.
Because bruises are the result of injury, it’s likely that their appearance won’t take you by surprise. As we age, our skin also becomes thinner and loses its elasticity and strength, due in the most part to reduced collagen levels in our bodies. This, in turn, leaves us more susceptible to bruising.

What links spider veins to bruises?

Spider veins are not caused by blood vessels bursting but rather as a result of blood leaking into surrounding tissue as a result of weakened collagen (collagen makes up the structure of blood vessel walls). While not particularly common, soft tissue injury is perhaps one area where bruising and spider veins may overlap. Trauma to the surrounding tissue has the potential to damage the blood vessels, and in the same way that it causes bruising can also lead to the development spider veins5.

How to treat your bruise?

The body is great at healing itself but there are also plenty of ways you can help to reduce the severity of your injury and prevent excessive blood pooling. A key aspect of this is RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation)2. After any injury, it’s worth making sure you take some time to rest and recover. To contain the bleeding you should apply a cold-compress with a flannel or cloth. Compression involves putting pressure on the affected area without causing further injury or disruption. Depending on the location of the injury and the bruise, elevation can help too.

Could it be something more serious?

Your bruise should clear up within two to four weeks, but it’s worth monitoring the bruise itself to make sure it’s is not an indicator of something more serious. If you find that bruises appear without a clear cause it is worth consulting with your GP or a medical professional, as excessive bruising can sometimes be a symptom of a bleeding disorder.

Want to find out more about spider veins and their potential causes? Take a look around our website or speak to one of our Nutrition Advisors.

References

1. NHS Choices (2016) Varicose veins – Causeshttp://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Varicose-veins/Pages/Causes.aspx
2. NHS Choices (2014) What are bruises? http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1057.aspx?CategoryID=72
3. Nael, R. & Rathbun, S. Curr (2009) Treatment of varicose veins Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine 11 V2
4. Varicose Veins.org Spider veins https://varicoseveins.org/spider-veins/
5. Web MD Varicose veins and spider veins http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/cosmetic-procedures-spider-veins#1

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie is an experienced medical content specialist and strategist, having worked for NHS Bristol and a number of medical-based charities.