How do I apply a bandage?

The key points when applying a bandage are:

  • Make sure the person is comfortable and tell them what you are doing.
  • Make sure you work from the side of the injury and do not have to lean across their body.
  • Keep the injured part of the body supported in the position it will be in when the bandage is on.
  • Make sure you use the right size bandage – different parts of the body need different widths of bandage.
  • If possible, do not cover fingers or toes when bandaging a limb, so that you can easily check the circulation.
  • Apply the bandage firmly, but not tightly, and secure the end by folding it over and tying a knot in the end. You can also use a safety pin, adhesive (sticky) tape, or a bandage clip.
  • As soon as you have put the bandage on, ask the person if the bandage feels too tight and check the circulation by pressing on a fingernail or a piece of skin until it turns pale. If the colour doesn’t return straight away, the bandage may be too tight, so you should loosen it. Limbs can swell up after an injury, so check the circulation every 10 minutes after you have put the bandage on.

There are three main types of bandage: roller, tubular and triangular.

Roller bandages

There are three types of roller bandage:

  • bandages that are made of open-weave material allow ventilation, but do not put pressure on wounds and do not support joints
  • elasticated bandages mould to a person's body shape, and are used to secure dressings and support soft tissue injuries like sprains
  • crepe bandages are used to give firm support to injured joints

To apply a roller bandage:

  • keep the rolled part of the bandage above the injury and the unrolled part below the injury
  • begin by wrapping twice around the injury to hold the end in place
  • work up the limb, winding the bandage in spiralling turns, making sure that each new layer covers one-third to two-thirds of the previous one
  • finish by wrapping the bandage around once more and securing the end

When applying bandages to elbows and knees (to hold dressings in place or support sprains or strains) flex the joint slightly, apply the bandage in a figure of eight and extend the bandage quite far on each side of the joint.

When applying bandages on hands (to hold dressings in place or to support sprains and strains), work from the inside of the wrist using diagonal turns across the back of the hand to the end of the little finger, leaving the thumb free.

Tubular bandages

Tubular bandages are used to hold dressings on fingers or toes or support injured joints. They are made of seamless fabric tube. You can get elasticated ones to place over joints such as the ankle. Ones made of tubular gauze can be placed over fingers or toes, but they do not provide any pressure to stop bleeding.

Before placing a tubular bandage over an injury, you may need to cut it to a smaller size. Some tubular bandages come with a special device (an applicator) that is placed over the injured body part to help apply the bandage.

Triangular bandages

Triangular bandages can be used as large dressings, as slings to support a limb, or to secure a dressing in place.

If you are using a triangular bandage as a sling on an arm, you use it opened out. You should:

  • ask the person to hold their arm across their chest and support the arm while you work
  • put the bandage under the arm and around the back of the neck
  • put the other half of the bandage over the arm to meet at the shoulder and tie into a knot
  • tuck the loose ends of the bandage in at the elbow, or use a pin

If you are using a triangular bandage to support a lower limb or large dressing, fold it in half horizontally, so the point of the triangle touches the middle of the long edge. Then fold it in half again in the same direction to make a broad strip.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 18/02/2015

Next review due: 31/03/2017