Getting stitches is a relatively standard and straightforward procedure, but there are some risks associated with wounds. The skin protects your body from infection. Cuts or lacerations can become infected before you get to the doctor and even after it is properly cleaned and closed. Your doctor may give you antibiotics if they are concerned about infection or if the cut is on your hand.
You may have scarring from your suturing or limited movement of the surrounding skin. This can be uncomfortable and feel like your skin is being pulled.
A bulging scar is called a keloid. Keloids can be uncomfortable and itchy and may cause cosmetic concerns.
If stitches are used internally, there are additional risks. Sometimes tissues can pull apart without healing correctly. This can easily go unnoticed and lead to health complications such as hernia.
Before your doctor begins to give you stitches, they will first need to know about the cut. They will want to know how the injury happened, if they should be looking for a piece of glass or wood, for example, inside the wound, if it has been contaminated, and when it happened. Your doctor will additionally need to know your allergies, current medications, and how long it has been since your last tetanus shot. All of this information will help your doctor determine the type of stitches you need and the best way to help your wound heal.
Your doctor will need to check your sense of touch around the cut, your pulse, and whether your muscle control is normal. This will help them determine the extent of your injury. They may need to evaluate how deep a cut is or use a probing instrument to check the wound for bits of glass, dirt, or metal. In rare cases, your doctor will order an x-ray to ensure there are no fragments in the wound.
What to expect
It usually takes only a few minutes to place stitches. First, any bleeding must be under control. Then, the doctor or nurse will numb the wound using a numbing gel or injecting local anesthetic around the wound. Your doctor or nurse will use sterile water and gauze to rinse and clean the wound.
The doctor will stitch your wound with sterile thread attached to a tiny, curved needle. The type of thread will depend on the kind of wound. If the cut is especially deep, your doctor will first repair the deeper layers of skin, and then the surface skin.
In general, you should not get your stitches wet, and you may need to apply antibiotic ointment and change dressings regularly. It is best to keep the injured area elevated above your heart for the first 24-48 hours to reduce swelling and encourage healing.
Stitches usually come out within two weeks. Depending on the wound’s location, it may be shorter. Stitches on the face can be removed within three to five days to help minimize scarring. Stitches over areas that move, such as joints, may need the full two weeks. Some types of suture materials are able to dissolve once healing is complete.
Removing stitches is a simple process. Each suture has a knot on top of the skin, so the doctor or nurse can gently lift the suture tails at that knot and cut the suture loop. The ends then slip out painlessly.
You can protect and take care of your scar with the following steps:
- Avoid bumping or putting stress on new scars over joints. These wounds tend to reopen easily
- Use sunscreen on the scar or protect it from the sun to prevent discoloration
- Use scar cream if your doctor recommends it
For most minor wounds that require stitches, you can expect to heal correctly with some scarring.
When should you call a doctor
For more severe cuts, you will want to initially wash the cut with water and a mild soap to prevent infection. Apply gentle pressure to stop the bleeding. If you cannot stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, seek medical treatment. If you are able to stop the bleeding, examine the edge of your wound. If they are smooth and stay together when you move your body, you do not need stitches.
You may need stitches if:
- The cut is deeper than a quarter of an inch
- You can see fat, muscle, or bone
- The cut is over a joint and opens when you move your joint
- A dirty or rusty object made the cut
- The cut is deep or is located on your hand or finger
- You are worried about scarring (for example, if the cut is on your face)
If you have a wound that worries you, contact your doctor or emergency department to have it examined. Your Dignity Health doctor will help you assess the state of your injury and will be able to help you lower your risk of infection and complications.
If you’ve received stitches for a cut but are still experiencing certain symptoms, you will want to contact your doctor. If the skin around your wound is red, swollen, hot, painful, or leaking blood or pus, contact your doctor right away. Fever or red streaks around the wound are signs of infection that need to be addressed urgently.
If your stitches pop open and you notice your wound pulling away, return to the doctor.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.