Stitches

Overview of stitches

Stitches (also called sutures) are a method of closing wounds. Stitches use loops of sterile thread to bring the edges of a wound together and are used to promote healing, strengthen the wound, minimize scarring, and preserve the function of the area. Stitches can be used for cuts and wounds acquired during everyday life or during surgical procedures. Different types of stitches are used in different scenarios.

If you have a serious cut or wound, you can trust your complete care (stitches and all) to the emergency teams at Dignity Health.

Why it's necessary

If a wound is not expected to heal on its own, you may need stitches to aid in holding it closed so the cells can heal. Our doctors use stitches to close these types of injuries:

  • Deep wounds
  • Wide or gaping wounds
  • Wounds with ragged edges
  • Wounds on the face or neck, even if they are small
  • Wounds over joints
  • Surgical wounds

The skin is our best protection against infection, so if you have a wound, you are more susceptible to infection. This is why it is essential to seek medical attention for any significant wounds or cuts you have within six to eight hours of the injury happening. For wounds that are deeper or gaping, it is crucial to seek medical treatment to limit the risk of infection, make sure that any debris is safely removed from inside the cut, and reduce future scarring.

Common conditions treated with stitches

Stitches are commonly used to treat wounds or lacerations that are not expected to heal on their own. Cuts to the face, hands, and joint areas often need stitches because of the potential for scarring and infection. 

Because joint areas move, they may pull the edges of a cut apart. This will delay healing and potentially lead to infection.

Stitches are also used in medical procedures to close up surgical incisions or repair internal damage to organs, muscles, tendons, and even bones.

Types

Two types of stitches are used to repair wounds: non-absorbable and absorbable. The type of injury that you have will determine what type of stitches you need.

Non-absorbable stitches are good for skin wounds. These stitches are removed when the wound has healed, and generally have a cosmetically appealing result. It typically takes seven days for connecting tissue to grow between the two edges of the wound. Once this “bridge” is present, the stitches can be removed, and the wound will continue to heal on its own. The longer that stitches are left in place, the more likely it is that you will have a permanent scar.

Non-absorbable stitches are also used for internal wounds. They will stay together for 300 days or longer, so they are ideal for internal tissues that will take a long time to heal. If they are used in internal surgery, non-absorbable sutures will be left in place permanently.

The second type of stitches, absorbable sutures, are ideal for layers that can heal quickly. These stitches are made of materials that your body will gradually dissolve, usually fibers that line animal intestines called catgut. Absorbable sutures are extremely strong in the first few days of healing, but after two weeks in use, they will have lost most of their strength. Absorbable stitches are ideal for fixing muscles because muscles need strong sutures initially but heal quite fast. Like non-absorbable stitches used for internal organs, absorbable stitches are not removed and are usually totally dissolved within 60 days. 

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.