True North Blog

First Aid Skill – How to remove a Ring

Although removing a ring from a swollen finger may not appear like a relevant survival or first aid skill, it can actually be quite important.  After all, if even one of your hands starts to become increasingly useless due to swelling and pain, then the odds of you being able to protect yourself, or others, in a wilderness survival situation diminishes steadily.  So, while various removal techniques may not be glamorous enough to be featured on one of the popularly scripted “survival” shows, you may want to still consider listening up.

The main issue is that there exists the real possibility of lasting damage to, or complete loss of, the finger due to the blockage of the blood flow to it.  This could occur due to some trauma where the finger, hand, arm, or even some other part Ringof the body is injured, such that swelling is a common physical response.  Examples include a climbing injury, snakebite, or burn.  There are a host of medical reasons too that could lead to such swelling.  In any event, it can be important to remove any jewelry, like bracelets, watches, or rings, from an extremity, especially before it begins to show signs of swelling.

The problem, however, is that, since few of us carry ring cutters or lubricant in our backpacks, it can be difficult, if not practicably impossible, to remove a ring in the backcountry once the finger has already swelled or started to swell — Especially without causing harm to yourself or your patient.

This ring removal technique is provided by  the Centre for Evidence Based Emergency Care (CEEBC) in England. Besides being effective, what’s especially nice is that you won’t upset your patient (or maybe, more importantly, your spouse) by destroying the ring.

Keep in mind that while the CEBEC folks used an elastic strap from an oxygen mask, this technique can be applied using many other types of cordage.  For example, I have seen it done using dental floss.  The key, then, is improvising with what you have available.

After all, improvisation is the essence of survival and wilderness first aid.

Would you like to know more about how to take care of yourself and others in a wilderness emergency?  Consider taking one of our upcoming Wilderness First Aid courses.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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