Laceration of an Arm or Leg: Stitches, Staples, or Tape

A laceration is a cut through the skin. If it's deep or it's gaping open, it may require stitches or staples to close so it can heal. Minor cuts may be treated with surgical tape closures, or skin glue.

X-rays may be done if something may have entered the skin through the cut. You may also need a tetanus shot if you are not up to date on this vaccine.

Home care

  • Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions on how to care for the cut.

  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for your wound. This is to help prevent infection.

  • Keep the wound clean and dry. If a bandage was applied and it becomes wet or dirty, replace it. Otherwise, leave it in place for the first 24 hours, then change it once a day or as directed.

  • If stitches or staples were used, clean the wound daily:

    • After removing the bandage, wash the area with soap and water. Use a wet cotton swab to loosen and remove any blood or crust that forms.

    • After cleaning, keep the wound clean and dry. Talk with your healthcare provider before putting any antibiotic ointment on the wound. Reapply the bandage.

  • Remove the bandage to shower as usual after the first 24 hours, but don't soak the area in water (no swimming) until the stitches or staples are removed.

  • If surgical tape closures were used, keep the area clean and dry. If it becomes wet, blot it dry with a towel. Let the surgical tape fall off on its own.

  • Follow the healthcare provider's instructions for any medicines prescribed.

    • The provider may prescribe an antibiotic cream or ointment to prevent infection. He or she may also prescribe an antibiotic pill. Don't stop taking this medicine until you have finished it all or the provider tells you to stop.

    • The provider may also prescribe medicine for pain. Follow the instructions exactly for how to take these medicines.

  • Don't do activities that may reopen your wound.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Most skin wounds heal within 10 days. But an infection may sometimes occur even with proper treatment. Check the wound daily for the signs of infection listed below. Stitches and staples should be removed within 7 to14 days. If surgical tape closures were used, you may remove them after 10 days if they have not fallen off by then. 

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Wound bleeding not controlled by direct pressure

  • Signs of infection, including increasing pain in the wound, increasing wound redness or swelling, or pus or bad odor coming from the wound

  • Chills, fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Stitches or staples coming apart or falling out or surgical tape falling off before 7 days

  • Wound edges reopening

  • Color changes in the wound

  • Numbness around the wound 

  • Decreased movement around the injured area

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