A laceration is a tear or cut in the skin, tissue, and/or muscle. They can vary in length, depth, and width. A laceration repair is the act of cleaning, preparing, and closing the wound.
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Lacerations that are shallow, small, not bleeding, and clean may not need medical care. Antibiotic ointment and a bandage may be all that is needed.
Lacerations may need medical repair if it has:
Wounds may also need medical care if there is risk of tetanus. This is a bacterial infection from dirt, dust, or feces. Factors that increase your risk of tetanus include a deep or contaminated wound.
Medical care may also be used if there is a worry about scarring.
If you have a laceration repair, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
To treat the laceration before you see the doctor:
Once you are at the hospital, the doctor will likely do the following:
This depends on the type of laceration, for example:
In some cases, no anesthesia is needed.
The wound will be cleaned and prepared. Hair the may interfere will be trimmed and smoothed away. Sterile water will be squirted into the wound. This will help wash away dirt and debris. A soap or antiseptic may be used to clean to surface around the laceration.
If necessary, some jagged edges will be cut away. This may help the laceration close easier. Damaged or dead tissue will be removed to prevent infection.
The laceration will be closed once the wound is clean. There are several options to help close the wound:
Dermabond is a special glue that holds a wound together. It is used on the face, arms, legs, and torso. It can also be used on small lacerations. It is not used for lips, lacerations that are over joints, deep lacerations, or most hand and foot lacerations. The laceration will be held shut. Next, a thin layer of Dermabond will be applied over the area. Warmth may be felt as the glue sets. Dermabond will be applied in 3 coats. The wound will then be held in place for 60 seconds. A bandage may be placed over the area over the wound.
Note: The glue sits on top of the laceration. It is not placed in the wound or between the edges of the wound. Never try to repair a wound at home with glue. Getting glue into wounds may prevent them from healing properly.
Steristrips are adhesive strips that help close the laceration. They may be used in lacerations that are clean, shallow, have straight edges, and are easy to push closed.
The doctor will align the edges of the wound. The strips will be applied across the wound.
Stitches, are used for wounds that are deep, bleeding, have jagged edges, or have fat or muscle exposed. The area will be cleaned with iodine. A surgical drape may be positioned over the wound. This will keep the area sterile.
If a laceration is deep, stitches may be needed under the skin. The stitches used under the skin will be absorbed by the body. They will not need to be removed.
The wound will then be stitched shut. Once the wound is closed, saline will be used to clean the area. A thin layer of antiseptic ointment may be applied, as well. A gauze pad may be placed over the stitches. An elastic bandage or tape may be placed over the gauze to cover and protect them.
Staples are best suited for the scalp, neck, arms, legs, torso, and buttocks. Iodine will be applied to the skin surrounding the wound. The wound edges will be closed and aligned. Staples will be placed along the wound.
Saline will wash the staple line. The area will be patted dry. An antibiotic ointment will be applied. A clear acrylic dressing called Tegaderm will be placed over the staple line. A gauze pad and tape will be placed over the area.
Hair tying is used for some scalp lacerations. Hair will be gathered in a way that pulls the wound shut. The hair will then be rubber banded or held together with dermabond so the wound remains shut.
Some wounds may put you at a higher risk for a tetanus infection. A tetanus vaccination may be given if:
This depends on the laceration. It may take less than 15 minutes or more than an hour.
This also depends on the laceration. Severe lacerations will be very painful. Ask your doctor about pain medication.
Following the procedure, the staff may provide the following care to make you more comfortable and help your recovery. This may include pain medications or antibiotics.
When you return home:
Removal of wound closure material depends on the type of repair that you had:
Note: Do not try to remove the closure material. Removing materials yourself may lead to infection, scarring, or reopening of the wound.
All lacerations heal with scars. The degree of scarring varies and is influenced by:
If a noticeable scar does result, plastic surgery may be used to decrease the scar’s appearance.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Professional Wound Care Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Association of Wound Care
Skin Care Guide—Canadian Edition
Beam, JW. Wound cleansing: water or aaline? J Athl Train. 2006;4(2):196-197.
Burns T, Worthington J. Using tissue adhesive for wound repair: a practical guide to Dermabond. Am Fam Physician website. 2000;61(5):1383-1388.
Joyce MP. Routine vaccine-preventable diseases—tetanus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/tetanus. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed December 28, 2012.
Laceration management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 14, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Donald Buck, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014