How to Tell if a Cut Should Get Stitches
Most cuts, abrasions, and lacerations will heal on their own and require only a small amount of wound care. Apply warm water with a mild soap and clean the skin thoroughly, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover with a clean Telfa pad or band-aid.
However, for lacerations and cuts that cannot be mended by simple wound care alone, you may need to visit your local emergency room or emergency care clinic for a few stitches to ensure healing and avoid infection. Lacerations that require stitches may continue to bleed, even after several days of cleaning and the application of a gauze bandage.
When do You Need Stitches?
Cuts or abrasions that may or may not need stitches is sometimes tricky to figure out without a healthcare provider, but there are simple rules to follow that can help you decide. Open wounds that continue to bleed after 20 minutes of pressure are most likely in need of stitches, or sutures. Continue to apply pressure to the wound to control bleeding and get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Lacerations that are jagged, deep, or gaping may also need a few sutures to pull the skin together and allow healing to take place.
- Facial lacerations or other places that may leave a scar
- Feels numb around the laceration
- Continues to bleed after 20 minutes of pressure
- The cut is over a joint that can't be mobilized
Kinds of Wounds that Require Stitches
Stitches or Not
Deep cut that usually has straight edges
Most likely will need sutures to join the edges for healing
A deep whole from a long and thin sharp object
No, may need a Tetanus shot though
Skin resembles a road rash burn
No, cleanse and apply antibiotic ointment and gauze
A piece of skin has been peeled or pulled completely away
May or may not be suitable, depends on the size of the skin tear, bleeding, and placement
What Types of Wounds Need Stitches?
Several different types of wounds may need stitching to reduce infection and promote healing.
- Lacerations may be straight and deep enough to require sutures. The edges may be trimmed is needed, and the underlying fatty tissue (yellow) may be visible in the wound which would definitely need sutures to close the wound.
- Punctures may be deep but don't usually require sutures. Punctures are wounds that may be from sharp objects, such as pins or toothpicks, that pierce the skin and cause a small round puncture site. These wounds may require a tetanus shot if it is not current.
- Avulsions are when the skin is pulled completely off of an area of the body. These may be suturable if they large enough.
- Abrasions are scratches and won't need sutures, but will need a good cleansing and wound dressing.
Emergency Measures for Cuts and Lacerations
If You Have Severed a Finger or Toe
Apply firm pressure to the injured finger or toe to stop bleeding. Place the severed finger or toe in a plastic bag filled with ice and take it to the emergency room with the injured person.
Your Laceration or Cut is Bleeding in Spurts in Time with Your Heartbeat
Most likely, you have nicked or cut into an artery. Apply pressure and call 911 or go to the hospital immediately. Arterial wounds may bleed quickly and large arteries cuts can be fatal. Never apply a tourniquet, apply pressure directly to the wound.
Be Sure Your Tetanus Shot is Current
Tetanus shots are recommended at least every five years, but it also depends on where you live. Ask your healthcare provider when a booster shot for tetanus is necessary.
The Procedure for Stitches (Sutures)
The physician may first numb the area to be stitched with an injection for anesthesia, clean the wound, or trim the edges (after it is numb) to suture together in a straight line. The physician will use a silk based suture to stitch the wound together. Keep sutures dry and follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.