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In the hustle and bustle of daily life, bumps and knocks are inevitable. You hit your knee on the door jamb, clip a desk with your hip, or take out a bedside table on a midnight trip to the bathroom. Then you realize there’s an discolored mark on your body: How do you get rid of it—fast? Dena Nader, MD, Regional Medical Director for MedExpress, has answers.

Bruises occur when blood leaks out from small blood vessels under the skin, explains Dr. Nader, creating that distinctive dark, purplish color. So the moment you make contact with something, you have to act quickly. Place an ice bag or a cold compress over the area to help reduce immediate swelling. The cold restricts blood vessels, slowing the flow which tones down the coloring of your bruise. Apply the cold ten minutes on, 20 minutes off, several times a day.

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What about those times when you happen to notice a bruise—and you have no idea how long it’s been there? “If the swelling is gone, you can use a warm compress—essentially promoting the opposite behavior of the cold compress,” Dr. Nader said. “At this stage, heat will prompt blood flow to the area, ushering away any pooled up blood in the area,” she says.

One tactic to avoid, warns Dr. Nader: Pushing on a bruise to try and break up the blood beneath the skin. This is not proven effective and could result in additional soreness and bruising. (Yikes.)

Generally, bruises clear up within five to seven days, she says, although the length depends on the severity of the bruise. If you notice pain and tenderness that won’t go away, see a doctor—you may have an underlying injury. Got bruises that turn up all the time and you can’t figure out why? Again, see a doctor as it could be a sign of something more serious. Remember that any bruise to the head should be monitored closely—it might be a concussion.

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