The Ins and Outs of Stitches: 5 Things You Should Know

The Ins and Outs of Stitches: 5 Things You Should Know

August 06, 2013
by Michael Barber
The Ins and Outs of Stitches: 5 Things You Should Know

How do you know if a wound or cut requires stitches? Where should you go to get stitches? What should you expect during the procedure? How should I take care of them at home? Below are five things you should know about stitches and why you shouldn't be frightened.

What Are Common Wounds That Require Stitches?

There are certain wounds that may require stitches, including:

  • Lacerations – What we call cuts, urgent care center physicians call lacerations.
  • Punctures – Punctures, unlike lacerations or cuts, are wounds that go in and come back out.
  • Skin Tears – Doctors call these avulsions and these are flap-type wounds.
  • Abrasions – Unlike a laceration, an abrasion is more of a scratch-type wound.

How do I Know if I Need Stitches?

There are some ways to tell if you need stitches, however, if you are unsure it's best to find an urgent clinic (or a retail clinic if stitches are something they treat) and let the experts decide.

  • Width of the wound – If the wound can't be closed easily by gently squeezing it, then stitches are probably required to close the wound and help it heal correctly.
  • Depth – The depth of a wound is often hard to judge. If you can see yellow-fatty tissue, you should get the wound checked out immediately.
  • Location – Locations of cuts, abrasions, or lacerations may determine if you need stitches or not. A good rule of thumb is to consider the range of movement where the wound exists. For example, we move fingers constantly so wounds here may need stitching more than another part of the body that we don't use as much. Do not use this as a final judgment in deciding whether you need stitches, however.

The above points are just a guide, especially for children's cuts. Children may not want parents or caretakers to touch the wound and should get immediate pediatric urgent care.

What Happens in the Examination?

Urgent care doctors or nurse practitioners will first perform an examination of the wound to make sure bones, ligaments, or arteries are not affected. They may take an x-ray if they feel the cut has impacted other areas. X-rays can also determine if a foreign body is within the wound like metal, wood, etc. Once it's deemed the wound needs stitches only, the stitching procedure will proceed.

What to Expert During the Stitches Procedure

First off, depending on the depth, width and type of wound, doctors will determine whether to use conventional stitches (sutures), staples, glue or sterilized strips. Once the physician decides on the method, the procedure is as follows:

  • Gently cleaning the injured area with saline, water, and bacterial soap
  • A local anesthetic is given to numb the area so patients don't feel the suture procedure. These anesthetics are quick and may sting but only for a moment. Once the area is numb, patients won't feel any pain or discomfort.
  • Doctors may further irrigate the area to clear it of debris.
  • The physician performs the suture procedure based on determining what is best, stitches, staples, etc.

Caring For Stitches Once I'm Home

Once you're discharged from the urgent care facility, you will be given instructions on how to care for the sutured area. These instructions include:

  • Keeping it free from moisture and water.
  • Changing bandages on a regular basis.
  • Using ointments to help healing.
  • Instructions on when to return to the clinic to have sutures removed.
  • How often you should take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.

You may receive additional instructions based on the injury's severity.

When cuts and abrasions occur, it's best not to guess. Seek immediate medical care. If stitches or sutures are necessary, these five steps should ease your mind, especially if you've never had sutures before.