Sutures is the medical term used to describe the stitches that close an open wound. Sutures have been used for thousands of years, although the technology and skill advancement in suturing has progressed considerably. In today’s urgent care setting, sutures are used to close wounds and prevent the introduction of foreign contaminants within the patient’s body. Some sutures make use of strong fibers that will later need to be removed from the skin, while others are done using materials that can be absorbed by the body as the wound heals. Staples are a form of suturing material and are used to close larger wounds. The process of suturing a wound is unique to the needs of each patient, and there are a number of different suturing techniques and stitch types.
It is impossible to provide a definitive guide for which types of injuries will need sutures and which can be closed using bandaging or other self-care remedies. In general, however, sutures are called for when a wound is more than 0.25 in. deep or are longer than 0.75 in. Wounds that gape open or have jagged edges are also likely to require sutures, as are those that reveal bones, muscles or fat layers. Another way to determine if a wound requires sutures is to apply pressure; if bleeding continues after 15 minutes, it is time to seek medical care.
Perhaps more important than the suturing itself is the process of examining and cleaning the wound. In the urgent care setting, wounds are thoroughly cleaned prior to closing, whether with sutures or bandaging. This serves to remove any dirt or other foreign debris from the wound, which greatly decreases the risk of infection. Also, the practitioner who cleans and sutures a wound can determine if additional treatment is needed, including prescription antibiotics, ongoing wound care or referral to an emergency room to address accompanying conditions, such as broken bones or severe tissue damage.
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