Getting Your Surgical Incision Wet

When Can I Get My Incision Wet?

incision
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Surgical incisions are usually kept dry in the immediate days following surgery. But you may be anxious to shower, swim, or get your incision wet. Each doctor varies in particular recommendations, but here are some general guidelines for when an incision can get wet.

What Doctors Say

As mentioned, each doctor treats incisions their own way, so always check with your doctor if it's OK to get your incision wet!

There is little scientific evidence to support the claim that a wet incision will get infected, but many doctors have this concern.

In general, most doctors will ask you to keep an incision dry until:

  • The incision is no longer draining
  • There are no signs of infection (redness)

Most often, an incision can get wet about 48 hours after surgery. In some situations, your doctor may also ask you to wait until the sutures or staples holding the skin have been removed. Also, many doctors recommend that incisions are not soaked (in a bath, swimming pool, or Jacuzzi) until the wound is completely healed (several weeks)

What Science Says

These recommendations have limited scientific basis. There are only a handful of studies that have been performed to ask this question, and most demonstrate that there is no difference between patients who shower soon after surgery (including getting the actual incision wet), and those who wait to shower.

 

However, there may be real concerns with getting an incision wet too soon. Therefore, always check with your doctor before getting your incision wet. There are sometimes specific reasons or concerns that may not be relevant to other patients, but may be important in your particular situation.

When You Can Shower

When you are permitted to wash your incision, you should use a mild soap, and never scrub an incision.

Be gentle on the skin surrounding the incision, and allow any scabbing to fall off without pulling at loose skin and scabs.

Sources:

Toon CD, Sinha S, Davidson BR, Gurusamy KS. "Early versus delayed post-operative bathing or showering to prevent wound complications" Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jul 23;(7):CD010075.

Carragee EJ, Vittum DW "Wound care after posterior spinal surgery. Does early bathing affect the rate of wound complications?" Spine. 1996 Sep 15;21(18):2160-2.

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