Caring For and Cleaning Stitches

December 3, 2014

Most scrapes and cuts heal on their own; however, serious cuts or surgical incisions may require sutures or stitches to hold tissue together while it heals. If you have stitches, it's important to properly care for them to promote healing and prevent damage or infection.
Tending to Stitches
Usually, stitches require relatively little care. With that said, there are a few things you should do to make sure your wound heals properly:

  • Keep your stitches clean and dry.
  • Avoid cleaning stitches during the first 48 hours.
  • After 48 hours, you can gently wash the area to remove crust.
  • Don't scratch your stitches, since this can damage them.
  • Avoid contact sports, such as hockey or football, to give the wound the best chance to heal.
  • Do not swim until your stitches have been removed and your wound has healed.
  • Monitor the wound for signs of infection, including swelling, redness, or pain.

Signs of Infection
Even though stitches keep a wound closed, you can still develop serious infections, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). If you notice any of the following signs, seek medical attention right away:

  • Increasing redness around the wound
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding or pus
  • A foul smell emanating from the wound
  • Warmth near or on the wound
  • Increased pain
  • Swollen glands
  • A temperature above 100.4°F

How Long Will I Need My Stitches
Generally, you won't need your stitches longer than a few days; however, this can depend on the size and nature of the wound. For wounds on the head, patients usually wear stitches for 3 to 5 days. For wounds on joints, such as elbows and knees, stitches may be required for 10 to 14 days. For other parts of the body, the duration is typically between 7 to 10 days. In certain cases, physicians will use stitches made of dissolvable (absorbable) material, which will ultimately disappear without the need for removal.

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