When to Bring Your Child in for Stitches


Contributed by Chelsea Wicks, M.D.

stitchesWe love it when children are active and I love it when I see little bruises on the shins of my patients, war wounds from play time. But, with all the fun, more serious injuries can occur as well.

It can be very difficult to know when to let things heal spontaneously and when wounds need to be evaluated and cared for. There are two main reasons that stitches would be used. First is to protect the open wound from getting infected, and the second is to minimize scarring.

Determining if a Wound Needs Stitches

There are three main things to identify when determining if a wound needs stitches: depth, width and location. If it is deep enough that you can see the yellow, fatty tissue, there is a good chance it may need to be closed with stitches but not always. If it is gaping open and the edges of the wound cannot be easily pulled together, stitches will likely help close it up for better healing. Finally, if it is located on a place of the body that moves and stretches a lot, stitches will again likely be beneficial.

It is important if you think stitches might be necessary for a wound to have it evaluated within 24 hours, earlier is even better. Once it gets beyond that time frame, there is a higher risk of trapping infection in the wound with stitches so it then has to heal on its own. If it is not a major wound with active bleeding or other complications, most urgent cares and some primary care offices are appropriate to take your child to for stitches.  Otherwise, go to the emergency room.

Other reasons to have your child evaluated for a wound include injury due to human or animal bites, a contaminated wound that cannot be cleaned easily or if the child has not had a tetanus vaccine within the past five years.