What is a Pneumatic Tourniquet?

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  • Written By: Erica Stratton
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 23 February 2020
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A pneumatic tourniquet is an inflatable cuff used to cut off blood-flow in a limb. A tourniquet serves several medical purposes in that it can make surgery easier and keep drugs from seeping into other areas of the body. Applying tourniquets to a limb holds risks in that they can cut off blood flow entirely, so proper procedures and precautions will need to be taken during their use.

This tourniquet is made up of an inflatable cuff, a gas source which inflates the cuff, and an electronic device which monitors pressure, called a micro-controller. The micro-controller was developed in the 1980s by Dr. James McEwen, Ph.D. Its purpose was to help lessen accidental over-tightening, which can cause blood-flow problems.

The recommended time that a tourniquet should remain on a patient varies by age and activity level, but most guides do not recommend more than an hour. The cuff will need to be loosened every half hour in order to avoid nerves going dead from lack of blood. Lactic acid can also build up to dangerous levels if the blood to a limb is cut off for too long.

By keeping blood from obscuring the area that is being worked on, pneumatic tourniquets help surgeries take place quickly. They also help the surgeon see the area he is cutting better. A tourniquet can also be used to keep an anesthetic or drug from spreading beyond the injection site to other areas of the body.


Pneumatic tourniquet cuffs are also well-padded. This is to avoid muscles and nerves being bruised or crushed by the pressure needed to cut off blood-flow to a limb. The pressure tends to be greatest on the edge of a tourniquet cuff, so it is important that they are made with this in mind. If a tourniquet is applied incorrectly, the pressure can cause the entire limb to be lost. For optimum safety, individuals must consider the health of the patient and her proper cuff size.

Individuals will need to check a pneumatic tourniquet and calibrate it before each use. The tourniquet can be disassembled for cleaning and sterilization. Care will need to be taken that moisture is not trapped inside the inflatable bladder, where it can mold and become a health hazard.


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