Sutures: Why They Are Used

Care and Removal of Sutures

Dental Sutures Diagram. A.D.A.M. at About.com

Surgical sutures, or stitches, are a special type of sterile thread that are used to sew an incision or a wound closed. They are available in multiple types, made of different materials, in different thicknesses and even different colors.  

Why Sutures Are Used

Much like sewing fabric, a strand of material is used to connect the edges of a wound, pulling them closer together so that they may heal.  If you think about an incision that is four inches long, it would take a very long time to heal if the edges were not pulled together.

 The ends would begin to heal, and slowly the wound would close, but the patient would be at a huge risk for infection with an incision gaping open for months while it healed.  Instead, sutures are used to pull the incision tightly closed, so that the edges meet in the middle. This way, healing can begin along the entire length of the incision, and most incisions are closed within a week or two in a healthy individual.  

Incisions aren't healed to their full strength in a few weeks, that can take many more weeks or even months, but having the skin completely closed means that the risk of infection is dramatically decreased and the patient is able to do routine things like taking baths and swimming.

Types of Sutures

Some sutures are thicker and stronger, these are often used to close the deepest part of an incision, where muscle and tissue have been cut to perform surgery.  These sutures are meant to stay in permanently, and may slowly dissolve over time.

 These sutures are good for months or even years, so that the body can return to full strength, and when they are no longer needed they will be dissolved by the body.

Smaller types of sutures are used to close external incisions and cuts.  The suture material needed to close a tiny incision or a cut do not need to be as large or as strong as those that are holding muscles, such as the abdominal muscles that help us lift objects and breathe, together.

 The sutures needed to hold a wound closed in an area that moves frequently, such as a finger, need to be durable and able to stay in place for a week or two during healing. 

Removing Sutures

Some sutures are absorbable or dissolving, meaning that they don't need to be removed but are absorbed by the body over time. Other types of sutures, usually those on the outside of the body, are removed a few weeks after surgery on an outpatient basis.

The person who placed the sutures should give you thorough instructions on when your sutures should be removed.  For a simple wound or a small incision, this is normally 10-14 days after they are placed.  Leaving sutures in too long can lead to them becoming stuck in the skin and may be very difficult to remove.   Some sutures are removed earlier, as is often the case with plastic surgeries, to help reduce any scarring that may form.

Sutures Care

In general, leave your sutures alone.  Don't try to remove any scabs that may be present, don't scrub them and don't remove them yourself.

 Gentle cleansing, with soap and water, is more than enough to clean the area.  Your healthcare provider may give you a special medication to rub on the area, if they do not, avoid putting anything on the sutured area, including Neosporin, harsh cleansers, antibacterial hand sanitizer and lotions.  These can cause more harm than good.

More Information: Incision Care Made Easy

Examples: The incision was sutured closed at the end of surgery, then covered with a sterile dressing.

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