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Closure of minor skin wounds with sutures
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Closure of minor skin wounds with sutures
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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 22, 2016.

INTRODUCTION — Laceration repair with sutures will be discussed here. Information concerning wound preparation and irrigation, topical and infiltrative anesthesia, and tissue adhesive and staples is found separately. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation" and "Topical anesthetics in children" and "Minor wound repair with tissue adhesives (cyanoacrylates)" and "Closure of minor skin wounds with staples".)

BACKGROUND — The basic principles of laceration repair have not changed significantly in the last century, but the therapeutic options now available are more innovative and rigorously studied. The development of topical anesthetics, tissue adhesives, and fast-absorbing sutures has made the management of lacerations less traumatic for the patient. In addition, the use of procedural sedation for difficult lacerations or for the extremely anxious child has made the experience more tolerable for the patient, family, and physician. The goals of wound management are simple: to avoid wound infection, assist in hemostasis, and to provide an esthetically pleasing scar [1]. The majority of studies now are focusing on the esthetic nature of wound healing rather than infection rates, because infection rates remain low, regardless of management.

WOUND PHYSIOLOGY AND HEALING — The epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous layer, and deep fascia are the tissue layers of concern in wound closure [2]:

The epidermis and dermis are tightly adhered and clinically indistinguishable, and together constitute the skin. Dermal approximation provides the strength and alignment of skin closure.

The subcutaneous layer is mainly comprised of adipose tissue. Nerve fibers, blood vessels, and hair follicles are located here. Although this layer provides little strength to the repair, sutures placed in the subcutaneous layer may decrease the tension of the wound and improve the cosmetic result.

The deep fascial layer is intermixed with muscle and occasionally requires repair in deep lacerations.

The healing process of skin occurs in several stages [3]:

Coagulation begins immediately following the injury. Vasospasm as well as platelet aggregation and fibrous clot formation occur. During the inflammatory phase, proteolytic enzymes released by neutrophils and macrophages break down damaged tissue.

Epithelialization occurs in the epidermis, which is the only layer capable of regeneration. Complete bridging of the wound occurs within 48 hours after suturing.

New blood vessel growth peaks four days after the injury.

Collagen formation is necessary to restore tensile strength to the wound. The process begins within 48 hours of the injury and peaks in the first week. Collagen production and remodeling continue for up to 12 months.

Wound contraction occurs three to four days following the injury, and the process is poorly understood. The full wound thickness moves toward the center of the wound, which may affect the final appearance of the wound.

Systemic disturbances can influence wound healing. These host factors include renal insufficiency, diabetes mellitus, nutritional status, obesity, chemotherapeutic agents, corticosteroids, and anticoagulant or antiplatelet adhering drugs. Disorders of collagen synthesis, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan's syndrome, can also affect wound healing [1]. In addition, patients of African or Asian ethnicity can be prone to hypertrophic scar formation or keloids. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Risks for poor outcome' and "Keloids and hypertrophic scars", section on 'Epidemiology'.)

Local disturbances are more common contributors to abnormal wound healing. These factors include temperature, ischemia, tissue trauma, denervation, and infection:

Temperature, blood supply, and ischemia are interrelated. The higher the temperature of the anatomic area, the greater is the blood supply and resultant oxygen delivery. The skin temperature of the face can be up to 9°F warmer than that of the foot, thus allowing for sutures to remain for shorter periods of time and also allowing for lower infection rates. Different suturing techniques can contribute to tissue ischemia, in particular the vertical mattress suture. Vertical mattress sutures have been shown in animal studies to cause more ischemia than continuous or simple interrupted sutures [4]. (See 'Vertical mattress' below.)

Infection can occur in any traumatic wound, and all acute wounds are contaminated to a certain degree. An infection occurs when there is an imbalance between host resistance (systemic or local) and bacterial inoculum. The mechanism of injury and the time from injury to potential repair are important considerations. Crush injuries may cause extensive cellular necrosis and higher infection rates than shear injuries due to the greater energy distributed over a larger area [4]. An injury heavily contaminated with dirt, gravel, or other debris also has a higher infection risk. The length of time between the injury and the evaluation also affects infection risk. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Age of injury'.)

WOUND ASSESSMENT — The management of minor lacerations begins with assessment and preparation of the wound. Wound assessment includes:

Determination of the mechanism of the injury

Age of the injury

Identification of possible contamination or foreign body

Assessment of extent of the wound

Assessment for neurovascular compromise or tendon injury in the surrounding area

Need for tetanus prophylaxis (table 1)

Identification of risk factors that might affect healing

These issues are discussed in detail separately. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Assessment' and "Tetanus".)

INDICATIONS — Sutures are appropriate when the depth of the wound will lead to excess scarring if the wound edges are not properly opposed. Typically this is true whenever the laceration extends through the dermis. The table describes key aspects of wounds that impact the selection of a wound closure method (sutures, staples, tissue adhesives, or surgical tape) (table 2). Some wounds amenable to closure with sutures may be better managed with an alternative technique. For example, staples are frequently used for scalp wounds and for wounds in noncosmetic regions, especially when linear and >5 cm because they permit faster closure. Wounds <5 cm that are not under tension may be closed with tissue adhesives which avoids the pain of suturing.

Clean, uninfected lacerations on any part of the body in healthy patients may be closed primarily for up to 18 hours following the injury without a significant increase in the risk of wound infection [1]. Facial wounds may be closed primarily up to 24 hours following the injury. In select cases, closure of facial wounds may occur up to 48 to 72 hours after injury if there are no signs of infection, the patient has no risk factors for infection, and the wound edges can be approximated easily.

CONTRAINDICATIONS — Concern about wound infection is the main reason not to close a wound primarily [1]. Wounds that have been grossly contaminated with foreign debris that cannot be completely removed, infected tissue, or noncosmetic wounds that have come to medical attention late should be allowed to heal by granulation (secondary intention) after appropriate cleansing. In addition, patients with risk factors for proper wound healing (eg, immunocompromise, peripheral arterial disease, diabetes mellitus) may warrant delayed primary closure depending upon the age of the wound (eg, >6 hours old) or wound site (eg, hands or feet). (See "Basic principles of wound healing".)

Other situations in which closure with sutures may not be appropriate include (see "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Type of closure'):

Animal bites, especially in noncosmetic areas (eg, hand, foot) (see "Clinical manifestations and initial management of animal and human bites", section on 'Primary closure')

Deep puncture wounds in which effective irrigation cannot occur

Wounds in which suturing will cause too much tension across the suture line. In this instance, healing by secondary intention with later scar revision may be a better approach

Wounds that are actively bleeding, especially if the source is arterial (with the exception of scalp wounds). The clinician should establish hemostasis so that a subcutaneous hematoma does not collect and create a potential nidus for infection as well as impede proper healing

Superficial wounds that would be expected to heal without significant scarring, such as lacerations or abrasions that only involve the epidermis. Suturing in these wounds will potentially cause increased scar formation and risk for infection

WOUND PREPARATION — Wound irrigation, foreign body removal, and necrotic tissue debridement are the main preventative measures against tissue infection. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Irrigation'.)

Surfactant cleaners, such as the nonionic surfactant poloxamer 188 (ShurClens), are also safe and useful for wound decontamination. They possess no antibacterial activity, but decrease the mechanical trauma of scrubbing while reducing bacterial load and incidence of infection. A high-porosity sponge (Optipore) is typically used in conjunction to limit local trauma [1]. This system is ideal for scrubbing large surface areas like "road rash" or burns.

Debridement has been considered by many to be equally or more important than irrigation in the management of the contaminated wound. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation", section on 'Debridement'.)

SUTURE MATERIALS

Terminology — A number of terms are used to describe the properties of various types of sutures.

The physical configuration of a suture describes whether it is monofilamentous (Prolene or Ethilon) or multifilamentous (silk). Multifilamentous sutures come in braided and twisted types. Braided types are usually easier to handle and tie, but can harbor bacteria between strands and cause higher infection rates.

Tensile strength is defined as the amount of weight required to break a suture divided by its cross sectional area. The designation for suture strength is the number of zeros. The higher the number of zeros (1-0 to 10-0), the smaller the size and the lower the strength.

Knot strength is the measure of the amount of force required to cause a knot to slip and is directly proportional to the coefficient of friction for a given material.

Elasticity refers to the suture's intrinsic ability to hold its original form and length after being stretched. This allows the suture to expand with wound edema or to retract and maintain wound edge apposition during wound contraction. Plasticity refers to a material that, when stretched, does not return to original length.

Memory is closely related to plasticity and elasticity. It refers to the inherent ability of a material to return to its former shape after being manipulated, and is often a reflection of its stiffness. A suture with a high level of memory is stiffer, more difficult to handle, and more susceptible to becoming untied than a suture with low memory. Polypropylene (Prolene) is a good example of a suture with a high level of memory [5].

Absorbable sutures — An absorbable suture is generally defined as one that will lose most of its tensile strength within 60 days after implantation beneath the skin surface [6]. The most commonly used today are the synthetic sutures (polyglactin 910 [Vicryl], polyglycolic acid [Dexon], polydioxanone [PDS], and polytrimethylene carbonate [Maxon]) (table 3). Catgut is still used frequently in pediatric wound closures. Fast Absorbing Gut is ideal for percutaneous facial closures and Vicryl Rapide can be used for laceration repair under splints or casts.

The ideal absorbable suture has low tissue reactivity, high tensile strength, slow absorption rates, and reliable knot security. Classically, absorbable sutures were only used for deep sutures. However, many have advocated the use of absorbable sutures for percutaneous closure of wounds in adults and children [7-10]:

Fast-absorbing gut for percutaneous closure of some facial lacerations is reasonable, particularly if suture removal will be traumatic. Subcutaneous sutures with a synthetic absorbable suture may improve wound tension and provide support to the healing wound once the gut has dissolved.

Vicryl Rapide or Chromic Gut is ideal for percutaneous closure of lacerations underneath casts or splints, but is limited for facial use due to their longer absorption times.

Chromic gut or Vicryl works well for single or layered closure of tongue or oral mucosa lacerations.

Vicryl or Monocryl is ideal for dermal closure of deep facial lacerations.

Nail bed closure is best done with chromic gut or Vicryl.

Catgut — Catgut is a natural product derived from sheep or cattle intima. Plain catgut retains significant tensile strength for only five to seven days. Chromic gut is treated with chromium salts to resist body enzymes, thus delaying absorption time. Chromic gut retains tensile strength for 10 to 14 days [5].

The main use of chromic gut is to close lacerations in the oral mucosa. Chromic gut is more rapidly absorbed in the oral cavity than most synthetic sutures, making it ideal for this environment. Chromic Gut is also used at our institution for skin closure on fingertip lacerations with or without concurrent nail bed injuries. It is less optimal for use in dermal (subcutaneous) and muscle layer closures because of increased tissue reactivity [11].

Fast-absorbing gut is a newer material not treated with chromic salts. It is heat-treated to accelerate tensile strength loss and absorption. It is used primarily for epidermal suturing, where sutures are only required for five to seven days [12]. The use of this fast-absorbing suture was studied in 654 wounds during plastic surgery procedures. The suture was adequately dissolved in the majority of cases during follow-up visits at four to six days [8]. Fast-absorbing gut is ideal for suturing facial lacerations when tissue adhesives cannot be used or suture removal will be difficult. However, care must be taken to be gentle with tying knots when using the smaller (6-0) fast-absorbing gut, due to its low tensile strength. It is reasonable to reinforce this suture with skin tapes. The use of 5-0 fast absorbing gut is reasonable for facial closures due to improved tensile strength.

Polyglactin 910 (Vicryl) — Vicryl is a lubricated, braided synthetic material with excellent handling and smooth tie-down properties. It retains significant tensile strength for three to four weeks. Complete absorption occurs in 60 to 90 days. It has decreased tissue reactivity compared with catgut as well as improved tensile strength and knot strength [5]. Vicryl is an ideal choice for subcutaneous sutures.

Vicryl Rapide — Vicryl Rapide has properties similar to fast-absorbing gut. It is the fastest absorbing synthetic suture and is indicated only for use in superficial soft tissue approximation of the skin and mucosa. All of its tensile strength is lost by 10 to 14 days, and the suture begins to "fall off" in 7 to 10 days as the wound heals. It is ideal for skin closure in patients in whom suture removal would be difficult or for closure of lacerations under casts [12]. The longer absorption time may limit its usefulness in some facial closures.

Vicryl Rapide has been proposed as an alternative to nonabsorbable sutures for certain laceration sites. As an example, in a small trial that compared Vicryl Rapide with polypropylene sutures in 73 patients with trunk or extremity lacerations, Vicryl Rapide had similar cosmetic outcomes [13]. However, rates of infection and train tracking (scarring perpendicular to the wound edge) were higher in patients who underwent closure with Vicryl Rapide when compared to nonabsorbable suture (infection rate 11 versus 3 percent, respectively; rate of train tracking 17 versus 8 percent, respectively) although the sample size was too small to show statistical significance for these findings. Thus, Vicryl Rapide may be associated with more complications when used for closure of trunk or extremity lacerations and further study is needed to determine if it is an appropriate suture choice for closure of these wounds.

Poliglecaprone 25 (Monocryl) — Monocryl is a monofilament suture that has superior pliability for easier handling and tying of knots. Its monofilament quality gives it a theoretical advantage over braided sutures for contaminated wounds requiring deep sutures. This suture is often used by plastic surgeons at our institution for facial lacerations closed with subcuticular running sutures. All of its tensile strength is lost by 21 days postimplantation [12].

Polyglycolic acid (Dexon) — Polyglycolic acid was the first synthetic absorbable suture to become available. It is a braided polymer, is less reactive than gut sutures, and has excellent knot security. It maintains at least 50 percent of its tensile strength for 25 days [14]. The main drawback is a high friction coefficient causing "binding and snagging" when wet. Newer forms of this suture have been developed, Dexon Plus and Dexon II, which have an added synthetic coating to improve handling properties while maintaining knot security [5].

Polydioxanone (PDS) — PDS is a synthetic monofilament polymer marketed as having improved tensile strength compared with Vicryl. It retains the majority of its tensile strength at five to six weeks. Because it is a monofilament, it has the theoretical advantage of creating a lower potential for infection. In addition, it appears to have a lower friction coefficient and better knot security than Vicryl. A disadvantage of using PDS is that it is more difficult to use than the braided synthetics because of intrinsic stiffness. In addition, it costs about 14 percent more than either Dexon or Vicryl [5].

Polytrimethylene carbonate (Maxon) — Maxon is a synthetic monofilament. It was developed to combine the excellent tensile strength of PDS with improved handling properties. The majority of its tensile strength is present at five to six weeks. It has minimal tissue reactivity, excellent first-throw holding capacity, and smoother knot tie-down than Vicryl. The only disadvantage is the approximate 7 percent increased cost compared with Vicryl or Dexon [5].

Nonabsorbable sutures — Knot security, tensile strength, tissue reactivity, and workability of the various nonabsorbable sutures used for skin closure are provided in the table (table 4).

Silk Silk is a natural product that is renowned for its ease to handle and tie. It has the lowest tensile strength of any nonabsorbable suture. It is rarely used for suturing of minor wounds because stronger synthetic materials are now available. However, it is frequently employed to secure percutaneous central lines, chest tubes, and other similar cannulas.  

Nylon (Dermalon, Ethilon) – Nylon was the first synthetic suture introduced; it is popular due to its high tensile strength, excellent elastic properties, minimal tissue reactivity, and low cost. Its main disadvantage is prominent memory that requires an increased number of knot throws (three to four) to hold a suture in place [14].

Polypropylene (Surgilene, Prolene) – Polypropylene is a plastic, synthetic suture that has low tissue reactivity and high tensile strength similar to nylon. It is slippery and requires extra throws to secure the knot (four to five). Prolene is especially noted for its plasticity, allowing the suture to stretch to accommodate wound swelling. When wound swelling recedes, the suture will remain loose. The cost of Prolene is approximately 13 percent more than nylon [5]. Prolene can be purchased in a blue color, which can be advantageous in localizing sutures in the scalp and dark-skinned individuals.

Polybutester (Novafil) – Polybutester suture is composed of a monofilament synthetic copolymer with tensile strength and healing properties similar to nylon and polypropylene [15]. Polybutester also handles well but has greater elasticity than either nylon or polypropylene. Its use may be associated with decreased potential for suture marks because of its ability to expand if wound edema occurs [16].

SUTURE SELECTION — In a metaanalysis of 19 trials (1748 patients) comparing the efficacy of nonabsorbable sutures with absorbable sutures for skin closure of surgical and traumatic lacerations, absorbable and nonabsorbable sutures had equivalent cosmetic outcomes and no significant difference for wound infection or wound dehiscence although follow-up was insufficient in several studies [17]. Thus, the type of suture material should be individualized for patients based upon clinician discretion.  

NEEDLES — Choosing the proper needle can be confusing because of varying nomenclature. The two most prominent manufacturers of suture, Ethicon and Davis and Geck, use different nomenclature for their needles [5]. The basic anatomy of a needle remains the same, however:

The eye is the end of the needle attached to the suture. All sutures used for acute wound repair are swaged (ie, the needle and suture are connected as a continuous unit).

The body of the needle is the portion that is grasped by the needle holder during the procedure. The body determines the shape of the needle and is curved for cutaneous suturing. The curvature may be one-fourth, three-eighths, one-half, or five-eighths circle. The most commonly used curvature is the three-eighths circle, requiring only minimal pronation of the wrist for large and superficial wounds. The one-half and five-eighths circles were devised for suturing in confined spaces, such as the oral cavity.

The point of the needle extends from the extreme tip to the maximum cross section of body. For soft tissue and fascia, the taper needle, round in cross section, is ideal.

Needle points are also available in cutting, conventional cutting, or reverse cutting form:

Cutting – Cutting needles have at least two opposing cutting edges. Cutting needles are ideal for skin sutures that must pass through dense, irregular, and relatively thick dermal connective tissue.

Conventional cutting – Conventional cutting needles have a third cutting edge on the inside concave curvature of the needle. This needle type may be prone to cutout of tissue because the inside cutting edge cuts toward the edges of the incision or wound.

Reverse cutting – Reverse cutting needles have a third cutting edge located on the outer convex curvature of the needle, which theoretically reduces the danger of tissue cutout [12]. Reverse cutting needles should be used for thick skin like the palm and soles.

Standard skin needles (FS series, CE series) are suitable for the scalp, trunk, and extremities. Finer sutures on the face require a smaller and more sharply honed needle (P, PS, PC, and PRE series) [2].

SUTURING TECHNIQUES

Percutaneous skin closure — The simple interrupted suture is used to close most uncomplicated wounds. For proper healing, the edges of the wound must be everted. This is best accomplished using the following technique (figure 1 and figure 2):

The needle should penetrate the skin surface at a 90 degree angle.

The suture loop should be at least as wide at the base as it is at the skin surface.

The width and depth of the suture loop should be the same on both sides of the wound.

The width and depth of the suture loop should be similar to the thickness of the dermis and will therefore differ from wound to wound, according to the anatomic location.

The number of sutures needed to close a wound varies depending upon the length, shape, and location of the laceration. In general, sutures are placed just far enough from each other so that no gap appears in the wound edges. A useful guideline is that the distance between sutures is equal to the bite distance from the wound edge [14].

Dermal closure — Dermal closure is typically used when wounds are deep such that closing the cutaneous layer will leave significant dead space with the potential for hematoma or abscess formation or when the wound is gaping and approximation of the dermis permits less tension at the skin level. The dermal or buried suture approximates the dermis just below the dermal-epidermal junction, thereby improving the cosmetic result in both situations.

Absorbable suture material must be used for dermal or buried sutures. The knot should be buried away from the skin surface of the wound so that it will not interfere with epidermal healing. This can be accomplished by inverting the suture loop using the following technique (figure 3):

The needle should be inserted in the dermis and directed toward the skin surface, exiting near the dermal-epidermal junction on the same side.

The needle should then be inserted on the opposite side of the wound near the dermal-epidermal junction, directly across from the point of exit.

The suture loop should be completed in the dermis, directly opposite the origin of the loop, and the knot tied.

Dermal sutures do not increase the risk of infection in clean, uncontaminated lacerations [18]. However, animal studies suggest that deep sutures should be avoided in highly contaminated wounds [19]. There should be no more than three knots per suture and the fewest number of sutures possible should be placed.

Alternative suture techniques

Running suture — A running suture is used for rapid percutaneous closure of longer wounds. It provides even distribution of tension along the length of the wound, preventing excess tightness in any one area. This technique is best reserved for wounds at low risk of infection with edges that align easily.

The closure is started with the standard technique of a percutaneous simple interrupted suture, but the suture is not cut after the initial knot is tied. The needle is then used to make repeated bites, starting at the original knot by making each new bite through the skin at an angle of 45 degrees to the wound direction. The cross stays on the surface of the skin will be at an angle of 90 degrees to the wound direction. The final bite is made at an angle of 90 degrees to the wound direction to bring the suture out next to the previous bite. The final bite is left in a loose loop, which acts as a free end for tying the knot. A disadvantage to this suture is if the stitch breaks or if the physician wants to remove only a few sutures at a time [14].

Subcuticular running suture — The subcuticular running suture is often used by plastic surgeons to close straight lacerations on the face. An absorbable suture, such as Monocryl or Vicryl, is used. The suture is anchored at one end of the laceration and then a plane is chosen in the dermis or just deep to the dermis in the superficial subcutaneous fascia (figure 4). Mirror image bites are taken horizontally in this plane for the full length of the laceration. The final bite leaves a trailing loop of suture so a final knot can be tied. The wound is then reinforced with adhesive tape [14].

Vertical mattress — The vertical mattress suture is recommended for wounds under tension and for those with edges that tend to invert (fall or fold into the wound). It acts as a deep and superficial closure all in one suture. The first portion of the suture loop (far-far) approximates the dermal structures. The second portion (near-near) closes the wound and everts the edges.

A vertical mattress suture is traditionally placed using the following technique (figure 5) [14]:

The needle is initially inserted at a distance from the wound edge, crossing through the dermal tissue and exiting through the skin on the opposite side at an equal distance from the wound edge. This is the far-far portion.

The needle is then rotated 180 degrees in the needle holder and the direction of the suture loop is reversed (backhanded).

On the return, small bites are taken at the epidermal/dermal edges, which become approximated when the knot is tied. This near-near portion of the suture loop closes and everts the edges of the wound.

Alternatively, in the shorthand vertical mattress technique, the small backhand bites at the wound edges are completed first, followed by the deeper, wider forehand bites. In one trial that compared repair time and wound healing for patients randomized to receive either the traditional or the shorthand technique, wounds were repaired in one-half the time using the shorthand technique [20]. There was no difference between the two groups with respect to wound healing.

Horizontal mattress — A horizontal mattress suture can also be used to achieve wound eversion in areas of high skin tension. The needle is introduced into the skin in the usual manner and brought out on the opposite side of the wound. A second bite is taken along the opposite side, approximately 0.5 cm from the first exit site, and is brought back to the original starting side, also 0.5 cm from the initial entry point.

The half-buried horizontal mattress suture combines elements of the horizontal mattress suture with a dermal closure. It can be used to approximate the corner of a flap (figure 6) [14]. The needle is introduced through the skin in the portion of the wound that does not include the flap. In the dermal (or buried) portion of the suture, the corner of the flap is picked up horizontally through the dermis. The suture loop is completed by bringing the needle out through the skin on the opposite side of the nonflap portion. The knot is tied on the nonflap portion of the wound.

SPECIFIC WOUND SITES

Lip – It is especially critical that lip lacerations are repaired correctly to preserve the cosmetic appearance and functionality of the lip. The assessment and management of lip lacerations is covered in greater detail separately. (See "Assessment and management of lip lacerations".)

Tongue and intraoral The decision whether or not to repair a tongue or intraoral laceration depends upon the extent of the laceration and the risk of compromised function after healing, but evidence suggests that outcomes for most of these lacerations are not improved by suturing. A more in-depth discussion of the indications and technique for repair of tongue and intraoral lacerations is found separately. (See "Evaluation and repair of tongue lacerations" and "Assessment and management of intra-oral lacerations".)

Scalp – The assessment and management of scalp wounds are discussed in detail separately. (See "Assessment and management of scalp lacerations".)

Eyebrow The eyebrow should never be shaved, because regrowth of the hair is unpredictable. Debridement and excision of the wound should be conservative and parallel to the direction of hair follicle growth. The eyebrow is of major cosmetic significance and the wound edges should be carefully approximated. Closure of eyebrow lacerations is described in more detail separately. (See "Assessment and management of facial lacerations", section on 'Eyebrow'.)

Eyelids – Assessment and management of eyelid lacerations are discussed in detail separately. (See "Eyelid lacerations".)

Cheek (zygoma) – Deep lacerations to the cheek, just anterior to the ear, have the potential to injure the parotid gland or the facial nerve (figure 7). If the parotid gland is injured, bloody fluid can be seen leaking from the parotid duct via the buccal mucosa at the level of the maxillary second molar.

Closure of cheek lacerations is discussed in more detail separately. (See "Assessment and management of facial lacerations", section on 'Cheek'.)

Ear Wound closure on the ear can proceed in standard fashion when the cartilage is not involved. The cartilage should not be sutured if at all possible because of the risk of infection. If suturing is necessary, the perichondrium must be included in the stitch in order for it to hold. The goal in repairing a wound with exposed cartilage is to cover it with skin as completely as possible. The closure of lacerations of the auricle (ear) is covered in greater detail separately. (See "Assessment and management of auricle (ear) lacerations".)

GUIDELINES FOR SURGICAL CONSULTATION — Consultation with a plastic surgeon or other surgical specialist may be required in some circumstances:

Closure of large defects that might be more practical to close in the operating room or that might require grafting

Severely contaminated wounds requiring drainage

Tendon, nerve or vessel damage that requires repair

Open fractures, amputations, and joint penetrations

Laceration over the site of a fracture (even if contamination of the fracture site seems unlikely, this is still technically considered an open fracture)

Compression between two rollers (eg, washing machine, industrial), which can cause delayed, extensive soft tissue and muscle damage [14]

Paint and grease gun injuries, which can initially appear as benign puncture wounds but later develop widespread tissue injury due to high-pressure injection [14]

Strong concern about cosmetic outcome by either the patient or family

Lacerations in some areas of the face may also require surgical consultation. (See "Assessment and management of facial lacerations", section on 'Indications for subspecialty consultation or referral'.)

AFTERCARE

Dressing and bathing — Most wounds should be covered with an antibiotic ointment and a nonadhesive dressing immediately after laceration repair. Limited evidence from one trial suggests that antibiotic ointments such as topical bacitracin zinc or combination ointment containing neomycin sulfate, bacitracin zinc, and polymyxin B sulfate significantly reduce the rates of wound infection when compared to a petroleum ointment control (5 to 6 percent versus 18 percent, respectively) [21]. Small crossover trials indicate that occlusion of the wound increases the speed of reepithelialization although complete healing appears to occur at about the same time when compared to uncovered wounds [22,23].

A nonadherent sterile gauze (eg, Xeroform) from which most of the grease is wrung, followed by cloth gauze, is ideal [24]. A simple Band-Aid will suffice for many small lacerations. Scalp wounds can be left open if small, but large head wounds can be wrapped circumferentially with Kerlix.

The dressing should be left in place for 24 hours, after which time most wounds can be opened to air. Wounds closed with nonabsorbable (eg, nylon, polypropylene) suture may be gently cleaned with mild soap and water or half-strength peroxide after 24 hours to prevent crusting over the suture knots. An antibiotic ointment can be applied to the wound as well, with instructions to apply the ointment two times per day at home until suture removal. In contrast, absorbable sutures rapidly break down when exposed to water and should be kept dry.

Patients with nonabsorbable sutures (eg, nylon, polypropylene sutures) may be allowed to shower or wash the wound with soap and water without risking increased rates of infection or disruption of the wound based upon the following studies:

A trial of 857 patients who underwent minor skin excisions found that allowing bathing more than 12 hours after suture placement without antiseptic or dressing use was not inferior to keeping the wound dry and covered (infection rate 8.4 versus 8.9 percent, respectively) [25].

An observational study of 100 patients who underwent primary excision of a skin or soft-tissue lesion or local flap closure and began washing their wounds twice daily within 24 hours of surgery found no wounds developed infection or dehiscence [26].

Although not well studied, prolonged soaking of nonabsorbable stitches including swimming in chlorinated water should be avoided because of the theoretical risk of premature loss of suture tensile strength with wound dehiscence. Patients with sutures should also not swim in natural bodies of water because of a potential increased risk of infection.

Prophylactic antibiotics — Proper wound preparation is the essential measure for preventing wound infection after suturing simple lacerations. (See "Minor wound preparation and irrigation".)

We recommend that healthy patients with minor wounds, other than bite wounds, who undergo laceration repair with sutures not be prescribed prophylactic antibiotics. A meta-analysis of seven trials (1701 total patients with a total of 110 wound infections) found that prophylactic antibiotics in healthy patients with wounds, other than bite wounds, were not associated with a significantly lower chance of wound infection (summary odds ratio for the risk of infection in patients receiving antibiotics: 1.2, 95% CI: 0.8-1.7) [27].

Prophylactic antibiotics may decrease the risk of infection in some animal and human bites, intraoral lacerations, open fractures, and wounds that extend into cartilage, joints or tendons [28]. In addition, some experts advocate prophylactic antibiotics in patients with excessive wound contamination (eg, soil or water contamination), vascular insufficiency (eg, devascularized wound, peripheral artery disease), or immunocompromise [28]. (See "Clinical manifestations and initial management of animal and human bites", section on 'Antibiotic prophylaxis' and "Soft tissue infections following water exposure", section on 'Empiric antibiotic treatment'.)

Suture removal — The timing of suture removal varies with the anatomic site [29]:

Eyelids – Three days

Neck – Three to four days

Face – Five days

Scalp – 7 to 14 days

Trunk and upper extremities – Seven days

Lower extremities – 8 to 10 days

Follow-up visits — Most clean wounds do not need to be seen by a physician until suture removal, unless signs of infection develop. Highly contaminated wounds should be seen for follow-up in 48 to 72 hours. It is imperative that clear discharge instructions are given to every patient regarding signs of wound infection.

UNIQUE PEDIATRIC CONSIDERATIONS

Anxious parent — A parent is an important advocate for his or her child, and his or her concerns need to be addressed with patience and understanding. It is inevitable that the clinician will encounter some parents who demand a plastic surgeon for simple laceration repairs or sedation for a laceration that easily could be managed with patient distraction and topical and/or injectable anesthetics. The best approach is to listen first and to suggest reasonable alternatives later. In some instances, there is no choice but to call a plastic surgeon. At other times, parents will listen to the explanation that the cosmetic outcome will be no different if repaired by a surgeon in the case of a simple, clean laceration. At times, it is also an issue of plastic surgeon availability. Often their viewpoint changes when the parents are truthfully told that it will be two to three hours before a surgeon can see their child.

In cases where a parent demands sedation for a simple laceration, he or she must understand that sedation has risks that are unnecessary if a reasonable and safe alternative exists. The use of distraction methods and the use of topical anesthetics should also be explained to the parent. Child life specialists, if available, can provide invaluable assistance in this scenario. The child life specialist can adequately distract many patients by reading books with the patient, playing a video, or providing visual imagery.

Anxious and uncooperative patient — The anxious and uncooperative patient is a challenge that at times can be managed with similar methods of distraction and imagery, but at other times leaves no choice but to sedate the patient to repair the laceration. Sedation choices vary depending upon age, mechanism of injury, and time required for repair and are discussed in detail separately. (See "Procedural sedation in children outside of the operating room" and "Selection of medications for pediatric procedural sedation outside of the operating room", section on 'Minimally painful procedures'.)

INFORMATION FOR PATIENTS — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials, “The Basics” and “Beyond the Basics.” The Basics patient education pieces are written in plain language, at the 5th to 6th grade reading level, and they answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials. Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are written at the 10th to 12th grade reading level and are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Here are the patient education articles that are relevant to this topic. We encourage you to print or e-mail these topics to your patients. (You can also locate patient education articles on a variety of subjects by searching on “patient info” and the keyword(s) of interest.)

Basics topic (see "Patient education: Stitches and staples (The Basics)").

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The management of minor lacerations begins with assessment and preparation of the wound, including the need for tetanus prophylaxis (table 1). (See 'Indications' above.)

Sutures are appropriate when the depth of the wound will lead to excessive scarring if the wound edges are not properly apposed. Concern about wound infection is the main reason not to close a wound primarily. (See 'Indications' above and 'Contraindications' above.)

The use of tissue adhesives and staples for closure of minor wounds, including indications and contraindications, is discussed separately. (See "Minor wound repair with tissue adhesives (cyanoacrylates)" and "Closure of minor skin wounds with staples".)

Wound irrigation, foreign body removal, and necrotic tissue debridement are the main preventative measures against tissue infection. (See 'Wound preparation' above.)

Previously, absorbable sutures (table 3) were used only for deep sutures. However, absorbable sutures are now advocated in some adult and pediatric patients for percutaneous closure of wounds as an alternative to nonabsorbable sutures (table 4). In particular, fast-absorbing gut is ideal for skin closure of facial lacerations in patients in whom suture removal would be difficult or tissue adhesives are not an option. Chromic gut or Vicryl are recommended to close lacerations in the oral mucosa, and Vicryl Rapide or Chromic Gut is ideal for closure of lacerations under casts or splints. (See 'Suture materials' above.)

Cutting needles are ideal for skin sutures that must pass through dense, irregular, and relatively thick dermal connective tissue. Standard skin needles (FS series, CE series) are suitable for the scalp, trunk, and extremities. Finer sutures on the face require a smaller and more sharply honed needle (P, PS, PC, and PRE series). (See 'Needles' above.)

The simple interrupted suture is the standard technique used for the closure of most uncomplicated wounds (figure 1 and figure 2). A running suture is used for rapid percutaneous closure of longer wounds. It is best reserved for wounds at low risk of infection with edges that align easily. The vertical mattress suture is appropriate for wounds under tension and for wounds with edges that tend to fall or fold into the wound (figure 5). A horizontal mattress suture can also be used to achieve wound eversion in areas of high skin tension (figure 6). (See 'Suturing techniques' above.)

Most wounds should be covered with an antibiotic ointment and a nonadhesive dressing immediately after laceration repair. The dressing should be left in place for 24 hours, after which time most wounds can be left open to the air. (See 'Dressing and bathing' above.)

We recommend that healthy patients with minor wounds, other than bite wounds, who undergo laceration repair with sutures not be prescribed prophylactic antibiotics (Grade 1A). (See 'Prophylactic antibiotics' above.)

The timing of suture removal varies with the anatomic site. (See 'Suture removal' above.)

Separate topics discuss the assessment and management of minor wound closure of the scalp, face, and mouth in greater detail. (See "Assessment and management of scalp lacerations" and "Assessment and management of facial lacerations" and "Assessment and management of intra-oral lacerations" and "Assessment and management of lip lacerations" and "Assessment and management of auricle (ear) lacerations" and "Eyelid lacerations" and "Evaluation and repair of tongue lacerations".)

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REFERENCES

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