When Do You Need Stitches?

By December 30, 2015Blog

Scraped knees, cuts, and bruises are a normal part of childhood and still happen occasionally as we get older. But how do you know when a wound is more serious and requires stitches or medical care from a doctor? In this article, we use the word “stitches” to refer to both liquid and traditional stitches. Stitches are employed by a doctor when an open wound needs to be closed.

There are two reasons a person can require stitches:

  • To bring the edges of the wound together in order to promote quicker healing
  • Reduce the risk of infection, or for a cosmetic reason, such as to prevent scarring from a cut or injury.

It can sometimes be hard to discern whether an open wound needs stitching or not. Below are some questions to ask yourself to help figure out if you need stitches:

  •         Is your wound gaping open?
  •         Is the wound deeper than 1/4”?
  •         Can you see fat, muscle, or bone when you look at the wound?
  •         Does the wound continue to bleed after applying pressure for 5-10 minutes?
  •         Is the wound bleeding uncontrollably?
  •         Were you punctured by a foreign object? If yes – don’t attempt to remove the object.
  •         Were you bitten by an animal or human?
  •         Is the wound on your face?
  •         Is the wound on a joint or going across a joint?
  •         Are you experiencing loss of sensation?
  •         Are you unsure if your last tetanus shot was within the last 5-10 years?


When do you need treatment?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, you should see a doctor for treatment. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you do need stitches, remember that the risk of infection increases as time goes on. It’s ideal for stitches to be placed within 24 hours after the initial injury, but use your best judgment here – if it’s obviously an emergency, seek urgent care. There are also exceptions to this rule, as some wounds may need to stay open for longer before they are closed, but your doctor can advise you on this. Your doctor will also let you know if and when you need to return to have the stitches removed and how to take care of the wound after you return home.


Wounds that are shallower and don’t meet the above criteria tend to heal on their own, but you can visit your doctor if you’re concerned about a particular wound. Scrapes, bruises, and shallow cuts typically don’t need stitches or medical treatment. If you’ve got any questions, make an appointment to be seen at Urgent Care today.