Everyone gets scraped and cut at some point. Most of the time, these wounds are minor and heal without any treatment at all. However, some cuts and injuries require stitches to heal properly.
Whether a cut needs stitches depends on factors such as where the cut is and how deep it is. Some minor wounds bleed more than others, which can make it difficult to know when to get stitches or just treat the cut at home.
Stitches, also called sutures, are special types of threads that are used to close a wound. They stop bleeding and reduce your risk of infection. Stitches also help reduce scarring.
Let’s take a look at how to know when you may need to get stitches.
The size of your laceration is an important indicator of whether it needs stitches. This includes the length and depth.
Your wound likely requires stitches if:
- it’s deeper or longer than half an inch
- it’s deep enough that fatty tissue, muscle, or bone is exposed
- it’s wide or gaping
The size of your cut also plays a role in how the wound is closed. Smaller, shallow wounds can sometimes be closed using sterile adhesive strips called Steri-Strips. Staples may also be used in place of stitches, especially with head wounds.
A laceration that is bleeding profusely and doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure likely requires stitches. Spurting blood may be a sign of a severed artery.
Get emergency medical care for bleeding that doesn’t stop with applied pressure or blood that is gushing or squirting from the wound.
Lacerations on certain parts of your body can increase the likelihood of needing stitches. Wounds on or across a joint will likely require stitches, especially if the wound opens when you move the joint. There is the possibility of damaging a ligament or tendon in these areas.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, cuts on or near the genitals and those on cosmetically significant areas, such as the face, should also be evaluated immediately. Cuts to areas of the face like the eyelids are especially concerning as they can impair functioning.
The causes of some wounds make medical treatment more important. This is especially the case with puncture wounds and wounds that are caused by a human or animal bite, which may need a tetanus booster or antibiotics, as well as stitches.
The risk of infection is higher with these types of wounds. Rabies is also a concern in the case of an animal bite.
These types of wounds should be evaluated by a doctor even if they’re not deep. This is especially true if they’re caused by a rusty or contaminated object like a nail or if the wound contains debris, like broken glass or gravel.
See a doctor right away if you notice any signs of infection, such as:
- redness around the wound
- red streaks spreading out from the wound
- increased swelling
- pain and tenderness
- pus or drainage
An infection requires treatment with antibiotics and may also need stitches.
The following is some basic first aid for bad cuts that may require stitches:
- Apply pressure using a clean cloth or bandage and elevate the injured area.
- For profuse bleeding, continue to hold the pressure for 5 to 10 minutes without stopping to look at the cut.
- If blood soaks the cloth, place another cloth on top — don’t lift the original cloth.
- Once bleeding stops, wash your hands and then gently wash the wound with soap and water without scrubbing.
- If possible, remove dirt and debris from the area by letting the warm water from the faucet run over it.
- Cover the wound with gauze or a bandage.
Some injuries require immediate medical care. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department for any of the following:
- a cut that is spurting blood, which may indicate an artery has been cut
- a wound caused by a foreign object impaling the area
- a bullet or other high-pressure projectile object caused the injury
- a puncture wound caused by a rusty or contaminated object
- a human or animal bite
- a cut on the face, eyelids, or genitals
- inability to move a joint
- numbness or loss of sensation
- a laceration accompanied by a secondary injury, such as a broken bone or head injury
It’s not always easy to know when to get stitches. Even minor cuts can cause bleeding that might appear excessive.
Do your best to stay calm and apply direct pressure to the wound to try to stop the bleeding. Gently cleansing the area can reduce your risk of infection.
Get immediate medical care for serious injuries and bleeding that doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure. Continue to apply pressure and keep the area elevated on your way to the hospital. Stitches can help minimize scarring and protect your wound from bacteria.