when to get stitches

When does your wound need to get stitches?

Written by: WellCome Care Editorial Team

In a Nutshell

  • Site, size, and cause of cut as well as amount of bleeding determines whether you need stitches or not
  • Contaminated or dirty wounds may require antibiotics or vaccination in addition to sutures
  • Proper after-care after an injury reduces the risk of infection and hasten recovery

Stitches or Bandage?

Most superficial cuts, abrasions or scratches heal without requiring stitches, but if your cut is deep, dirty or is located at a sensitive spot on your body, you may need stitches to ensure proper healing. Stitches, also referred to as sutures are specialized threads that are used by healthcare providers to close a wound. When applied properly, stitches stop bleeding, reduce the risk of infection, and minimize scarring.

Factors that determine whether you need stitches

  1. Size of the wound: The length and depth of wound determines whether you need sutures or not. You may require stitches if:
  • The wound is longer or deeper than 1 inch, you would need stitches
  • The muscle, fatty tissue, or bone is exposed
  • The wound is wide or gaping

The size of cut or laceration also dictates how the would is closed. Shallow wounds are usually closed with the help of adhesive tapes, or band-aids, whereas head wounds are usually closed by staples.

Bleeding from the wound: If your wound is profusely bleeding even after applying pressure or after 10 minutes of injury, you may require stitches. Seek immediate medical help if blood is gushing out or spurting as it may suggest a severed artery.

Site of Injury: Site or location of injury also determines whether you need stitches or not. Some examples are:

Cause of Injury: Medical treatment is particularly important for wounds or cuts that are caused by animal or human bite, or puncture wounds as in all such cases, you may also need a tetanus shot, antibiotics or other vaccines in addition to stitches. Regardless of the size and depth of wound, speak to a healthcare professional on emergent basis if:

Poor/ Inadequate healing of an old cut: You should see a healthcare professional if an old wound, cut, or laceration is not healing adequately or if you have developed an infection. Common signs of infection are:

Basic First Aid soon after the Injury

Soon after the injury, follow these steps to secure the wound that may or may not require stitches:

  • Elevate the area of injury to reduce blood loss.
  • Apply gentle pressure with a bandage or clean cloth to slow down the bleeding
  • If the cloth or bandage gets soaked with blood, apply another one on top of the first bandage (do not remove the first bandage/ cloth covering the wound)
  • When bleeding stops completely, gently wash the wound with clean running water to remove any debris, foreign particles from the wound
  • Cover the wound with a gauze or bandage

Strength of Evidence:A

The recommendations made in this article are based of consensus and general practices.

Our Ruling

Generally, deep, contaminated wounds that are located on cosmetically sensitive parts of the body (such as face) or on joints require stitches. The management and type of suture varies, depending on the nature of wound and cause of injury. Stitches hasten the speed of recovery and protects you from infection, blood loss, pain, and loss of function.

Our Sources:

  1. NHS - Treating cuts and stitches
  2. Treating kids with stitches
  3. Medline - Treating stitches and lacerations
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