Stitches (Sutures, Wound Closures)

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Stitches facts

  • Wounds or lacerations must be explored and thoroughly cleaned prior to closure.
  • Suture materials vary in their composition and thickness, and the choice of the appropriate material depends upon the nature and location of the wound.
  • Staples, Steri-Strips, Band-Aids, and skin glue can be alternatives to suture material for skin closure.
  • Dissolvable suture material may be used for repair of deep tissues.
  • Most sutures are left in place for seven to 10 days.

Why is wound closure important?

The ability to close a skin wound is an important skill learned by medical care providers. Whether the skin injury was made by a scalpel in the operating room or by a fall in the street, the decision as to how and when to repair the damage needs to be individualized for each patient and situation.

The skin has many layers from the epidermis on the outside to the subcutaneous tissue and the dermis in between. Each of these layers has other sub-layers that help the skin perform its functions. The skin provides a barrier to the outside world and the dangers of infection, environmental hazards and chemicals, and temperature. It contains melanocytes that can darken or tan the skin while protecting from ultraviolet radiation and it also plays an important role in temperature regulation.

A picture of stitches or sutures
A picture of stitches or sutures

Different options exist for repairing lacerated skin and providing a nice cosmetic outcome. However, there are two important steps that need to occur before the skin is closed.

  • Exploration: Most wounds need to be examined and explored to their full depth, looking for dirt and debris that may have entered and making certain that the anatomic structures are intact and not injured. For example, in a hand or finger laceration, the care provider will want to make certain that the tendons beneath the skin have not been cut. This is done both by physical examination looking for weakness or loss of motion and by looking into the wound, identifying the tendon and seeing that it is normal.
  • Cleaning: When the skin is broken, the outside world invades the body and may cause infection. Before the skin is closed, the wound must be washed out or irrigated thoroughly to prevent the occurrence of an infection. Sometimes, a small amount of dirty tissue needs to be cut out, and this is called debridement.

The purpose of wound care is not simply to yield a good-looking scar. All wounds will eventually heal, although closing a wound will make the healing time shorter. The purpose of going to a health-care provider is to get the wound cleaned and make certain everything is in good working order beneath the damaged skin.

When a laceration occurs, there are some reasonable first aid and home-care steps to consider. Washing with tap water to clean the wound is always helpful. Studies have shown that plain soap and water are as good as any special soap for cleaning wounds. The wound should be lightly bandaged and elevated if possible.

The amount of blood supplied to different parts of the body varies. A wound on the face, scalp, and hand may bleed profusely while one on the shin or back may not. Bleeding will often stop with direct pressure at the bleeding site and elevation of the injured part of the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/31/2014