Cuts and scrapes are bound to happen no matter how careful we are. Thankfully, most minor cuts and scrapes are easily treated at home, but how do you know if a cut is severe enough to simply cover with a band-aid or if it warrants a trip to the provider for stitches?
Stitches are made of surgical thread and are used to close two pieces of skin together, much like sewing two pieces of fabric together. Stitches aid in speeding up the healing process, lessen the chances of infection and minimize the chances of an unsightly scar being left in place of your cut.
The first step, of course, is to treat the wound after you've been cut. The wound should be washed thoroughly to prevent infection. Simply use water and gentle soap to clean the cut, then pat it dry with a clean towel. In addition, directly applying pressure to the wound is critical to stop bleeding.
What to ask yourself before going to get stitches
After taking steps to complete initial first aid, it's time to examine your wounds and assess whether or not a trip to the provider may be needed for further evaluation. Here’s what you need to ask yourself to determine if a trip to the provider or urgent care is needed.
How does the cut look?
If the cut appears deep and gaping, a trip to the provider is advised. Generally, a medical professional should check cuts deeper than a quarter of an inch. Cuts that are open wide and do not close with a bit of pressure or that have ragged edges are also of concern. If it seems to be anything more severe than a paper cut, a visit to the provider is probably the best course of action.
How bad is the bleeding?
After applying direct pressure to your wound for at least 10 minutes, check if the bleeding has slowed or stopped. If the wound is spurting blood or soaking through bandages, these are indicators of a cut that may need stitches.
Where is the wound?
Cuts on areas of your body that move or stretch more can also be of concern. Areas that frequently move, such as your knees, elbows, mouth and eyes can prevent the wound from closing or healing properly. In this case, stitches are essential for ensuring the cut can stay closed and heal without disturbance.
As mentioned before, stitches can help minimize scarring after healing. If the cut happens to be on your face, it's OK to ask a provider for help to prevent an unsightly scar from developing later.
What caused the wound?
Wounds caused by dirty or rusty objects such as a nail or an animal can be even more at risk for infection. Even if stitches are not needed, it's important to consult with a provider in this situation to ensure the wound is free of harmful bacteria or disease.
You've probably heard it before, but when in doubt, it's best to be seen by a medical provider. If you believe your wound needs to be treated by a provider, avoid using an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment until a provider has examined it. In addition, you should see a provider within 6 to 8 hours after the injury — the longer the wound stays open, the higher the risk of infection. Therefore, it's essential to make a decision quickly to avoid complications later on.
What you need to know about getting stitches
The procedure for getting stitches is relatively simple. First, your healthcare provider will numb the area with a local anesthetic to reduce discomfort while receiving the stitches. They will then clean the wound and make sure there is no dirt, debris or other foreign objects in the cut. After that, the healthcare provider will begin sewing together the wound opening.
After you receive stitches, the healthcare provider may give further instructions for taking care of the stitches while they heal. In general, it's a good idea to keep your stitches dry for one to two days. Some providers may even recommend an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. Be sure to follow the instructions your provider gives you to make sure your wound heals successfully and without complications.
Stitches typically will stay in for a few days to a couple of weeks. The time will all depend on the severity of the cut and location. You will have to revisit your provider to get them removed, but thankfully it is a faster process than getting them in. No numbing solution is needed for removal — the healthcare provider will simply clip the ends of the thread where the knot is located and pull them out. This is a painless process, but you may feel tugging while the stitches are coming out.
How are stitches removed?
While the process for getting stitches removed is relatively simple, it's important you do not remove them on your own. The provider will need to check on the wound's healing process and ensure the stitches are ready to come out. If you remove the stitches too early, you risk opening the wound and causing pain while taking them out as well.
Your provider may give you additional instructions or recommendations after stitch removal to reduce scarring or continued care.
Overall getting stitches is a quick and straightforward process. Getting the proper care after a cut is crucial in ensuring your cut can heal and not cause further complications later down the line.
Where to get treated if you need stitches
After you've decided to visit a provider, the next question is where should you go? Getting an appointment with a provider at the last minute can be challenging, and waiting in an emergency room is not the best way to spend your time — especially with an open wound!
Instead, consider going to your local CareNow® clinic for a consultation. With more than 150 urgent care clinics around the United States, CareNow® is ready to serve you and your family. Our clinics are open seven days a week and stay open late to provide care when you need it most.