First Aid: Types of Bandages
Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.
This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.
Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.
First Aid - Types of Bandages
Bandages are an essential part of every first aid kit. They’re amongst the most useful items for any first-aider, with a number of potential applications which are useful when dealing with the majority of everyday accidents and injuries.
However, dressings and bandages are only helpful when used correctly as many are designed with a single specific purpose in mind, like holding heavy dressings against a wound or supporting a broken limb. Using a bandage which isn’t suited to the situation means it will be less effective that intended. Some bandages can only be used on certain body parts due to their irregular shape, such as tubular bandages, and some are made of non-absorbent materials which means that they mustn't be used on open wounds. This makes learning to recognize the different bandages in a first aid kit essential.
In this bandaging guide, we’re going to walk you through the different types of bandage that you’re likely to encounter and provide you with a brief overview of the way in which you might use them. This information comprises part of our first aid certification available as an online course with Virtual College, which covers each aspect in more detail.
Our primary survey course may be helpful for those interesting in learning more about first aid. Read more about what it covers by clicking here.
What are the Different Types of Bandage?
Roller bandages are the most common type of bandage. They’re normally made from a single continuous strip of lightweight and breathable cotton gauze, used primarily for holding dressings against wounds.
Most first aid kits will also have thicker, crepe roller bandages which are great for supporting joints due to their elasticated design. They can also be used to control light to moderate bleeding when used together with a pad or dressing, which makes them very useful in emergency situations.
Roller bandages typically look like a tightly wrapped cylinder of white cotton gauze. In most cases, roller bandages are supplied in sterile plastic packets that provide details about the type of bandage, the density of the weave and the degree of elasticity.
To use a roller bandage to hold a dressing against an open wound, start by applying a suitable pad/dressing to the affected area. You’ll then need to take the bandage - holding the rolled end up - and wrap it slowly around the pad. Start at the bottom and work up, adding a few centimetres at a time to keep things tight and compressed, otherwise you won’t be able to apply the pressure needed to support the dressing.
Take care to ensure that each wrap overlaps at least a 3rd of the previous wrap to ensure the pad/dressing is properly covered. When you get to the top of the dressing, add a couple of extra turns, secure the bandage and cut it off.
If you’re using a roller bandage to apply pressure to a limb and/or support a joint, do the same but make sure that you have the patient flex/bend their arm a couple of times before applying, and ensure that you’re still wrapping tightly so that pressure is applied.
Triangular bandages are amongst the more versatile types of bandaging you can usually find in a first aid kit. They are essentially a single sheet of thick cotton or calico designed for constructing slings that:
- Support soft tissue injuries
- Immobilize broken bones
You can also use triangle bandages to create a makeshift tourniquet in emergency situations. If no roller bandages are available, you can also wrap one around a pad or dressing to apply pressure.
Triangular bandages will look for a larger, square packet within your first aid kit, containing a triangle of cloth. Some triangular bandages are also supplied with safety pins to aid with sling construction.
When using a triangular bandage to support or immobilize a limb, you’ll first need to figure out the most appropriate type of sling for the injury.
For lower arm, elbow and hand injuries, you’ll want to choose between an arm sling and an elevation sling, depending on whether or not you need to restrict blood flow to the affected body part. For lower body injuries, you’ll want to use your bandage as a broad-fold version of the roller bandage; wrapping it round and round the affected body part to fully immobilize it.
Once you’ve worked what kind of sling is needed then you can start to construct it. Since the way in which slings are constructed varies significantly, we’d recommend familiarising yourself with a visual guide such as this one.
Tubular bandages are perhaps the least versatile of the three conventional bandages. These are elasticated tubes of thick gauze designed for use with a single body part, dictated by the width of the bandage itself. They provide compression, can be used to immobilize/support knee and elbow joints and, in some cases, hold a dressing against a limb.
Tubular bandages look like a long ring of bandage within a first aid kit, or potentially like a roll of elasticated, circular bandage that’s designed to be cut to fit the required area.
To use a tubular bandage, simply slide it up slowly until it’s covering whatever body part you are trying to treat. If you are using a tubular bandage to support a joint that’s all you need to do, but if you are using a tubular bandage to hold a dressing tight against a limb, you’ll want to cut the dressing in place first, ask the patient to hold it in place, and then slowly slide the tubular bandage up until it covers the pad, taking care not to displace the dressing or contaminate the wound.
This guide is designed to complement our range of health and safety courses. Click here to browse our health and safety courses.