Do You Need Stitches? Here's How You Know.
Oct 13, 2022 | Urgent Care | Share:
Have you ever gotten a nasty cut and wondered if you needed to see a doctor for stitches? If so, you’re not alone.
Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that you need medical care for your wound. But other times, you may not be so sure. The truth is, if you think you might need to see a doctor for a wound, you’re probably right.
Thankfully, most wounds aren’t medical emergencies and can be treated easily at an urgent care clinic. Our guide will help you know when to get medical care for your cut or wound, regardless of whether or not it needs stitches.
How Stitches Help You Heal
Your amazing body is designed to heal itself when you get an injury. You know from experience that many cuts and wounds will heal easily and without any medical intervention at all. For most wounds, a bandage and time are really all you need.
But other wounds may require stitches to fully heal. When you have a large or jagged cut, a doctor can use sutures (a natural or synthetic medical-grade thread) to sew your wound closed. Stitches can help your wound heal properly and prevent infection from your injury.
Sometimes it’s difficult to stop the bleeding from a cut or wound. If you’ve applied pressure but your cut is still bleeding through your bandage, you may need stitches to help it stop. If your cut is jagged or at a joint such as your knee or elbow, stitches can help your wound close completely and stay closed.
Your skin protects your body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. When you have a cut on your skin, that barrier is broken and your risk of infection increases. An open wound is like an invitation for bacteria, so using stitches to close a large or difficult-to-close wound helps reduce your risk of infection.
Getting Stitches: The Basics
If you’ve never had stitches before, the thought of having a doctor sew through your skin may be a little frightening. But the process of getting stitches is designed to minimize patient discomfort.
When you come to an urgent care clinic for stitches, your provider will clean and numb your wound. A local anesthetic will help make your procedure as painless as possible. Before closing your wound, your urgent care doctor will ensure that it’s free of debris or foreign objects and is thoroughly cleaned.
Once your wound is ready for stitches, your doctor will close your cut using a tiny needle threaded with sutures. You might feel some pressure and tugging, but you shouldn’t feel pain as the doctor loops and knots the thread, bringing together the sides of your wound.
Sutures come in a variety of materials and strengths, and the type of sutures your doctor chooses will depend on the location and size of your wound. Absorbable sutures can be made of natural or synthetic materials and don’t need to be removed by a doctor. Instead, enzymes in your body break these down over a period of time. Absorbable stitches are often used in surgery and for facial wounds or lacerations.
But for most urgent care visits for stitches, your doctor will use non-absorbable sutures. These are also made of either natural or synthetic materials, but your doctor will need to remove these stitches after your wound heals. Non-absorbable sutures are perfect for external wounds and are strong enough to provide the support your body needs to heal properly.
When your doctor gives you stitches, they’ll also let you know when it will be time to get your stitches removed (usually in about 7 to 10 days). While it’s not impossible to remove stitches yourself, it’s best to have a medical professional do it for you. Your provider will snip each loop of thread at the knot and gently remove each stitch. There’s no additional copay, and the process is relatively quick and painless.
Alternatives to Stitches
Not every wound needs stitches to heal properly. Your urgent care doctor may decide that your cut or wound can be closed with an alternative to stitches such as Steri-Strips or Dermabond. Both can be used on their own for smaller wounds and are great for patients who get nervous around needles.
Steri-Strips, often called butterfly bandages or wound tape, are thin, strong strips of surgical tape that can be used to close a wound. Your provider will bring the edges of your wound together and apply multiple strips across the wound, holding it closed.
Steri-strips aren’t like a typical bandage. They’re designed to stay in place for about two weeks and are porous to minimize your risk of infection. Steri-strips can be used on their own to close smaller wounds, or they can be used to reinforce your stitches at a joint such as your elbow.
Dermabond, also known as liquid stitches, works a lot like superglue to close cuts and wounds. Although it has a lot in common with superglue, Dermabond is a medical-grade product designed to close wounds; you should never try to use superglue to close a wound on your own.
Dermabond can be used on its own or alongside stitches or Steri-Strips. This liquid adhesive is water-resistant and is great for smaller wounds, but it isn’t useful for jagged wounds or wounds that are on your hands or feet. Dermabond lasts for 5 to 10 days and will fall off on its own.
Why Urgent Care is Perfect for Stitches
An urgent care clinic is the perfect place to go when you need to get stitches. Most wounds aren’t medical emergencies, but they do need quick treatment. MedHelp urgent care clinics are open seven days a week with extended hours on weekdays, which is perfect for those wounds that occur while you’re working on a project over the weekend or while you’re making dinner.
You usually need an appointment to see your primary care doctor, but an urgent care clinic near you can treat you quickly without the high cost of an emergency room visit. If you visit MedHelp urgent care with a wound, just let the front desk know: they’ll get you back into a room so you don’t have to stay in the waiting room while you’re bleeding.
You may need stitches for your cut or wound if:
- Your wound won’t stop bleeding after ten minutes with direct pressure
- It has jagged edges or you can’t push the edges of your wound together
- Your wound is greater than ½” long
- It goes deeper than your first layer of skin
- Your wound is located on a joint such as your knee or elbow
But even if your cut doesn’t need stitches, you may still need to see a doctor.
No Stitches needed? You May Still Need Care.
You may still need medical treatment for a cut or wound that doesn’t fit the criteria for stitches. Regardless of the size or depth of your wound, visit an urgent care clinic if you’ve cut yourself with something dirty or you have debris left in your wound.
Did you puncture yourself with a rusty nail or nick yourself with a tool that’s been in your garage? If you’re not sure when you last had a tetanus shot, it’s a good idea to visit an urgent care clinic when your injury is caused by something dirty. Your urgent care doctor can examine your wound and get you up-to-date on your tetanus shot.
A nasty spill on a bike might not give you a deep gash, but it may give you a knee full of gravel. Whether you’ve got bits of dirt, rock, or glass in your wound, you need to see an urgent care doctor for treatment. Your doctor can get your wound completely clean; you may also need an x-ray to ensure that even the tiniest bits of debris have been removed.
You don’t need to visit a doctor for every cut or scrape you get, but you do always need to practice good first aid. When you’re wounded, make sure to stop the bleeding (applying direct pressure as needed) and clean your wound thoroughly with mild soap and water. Before applying a bandage to cover your wound, apply an antibiotic ointment to minimize the risk of infection. While your wound is healing, keep an eye out for signs of a skin infection, including redness, pain, swelling, pus, or heat at the site of your wound.
When to Go to the ER for Wounds
Most cuts and wounds that can’t be treated at home can be treated easily and safely at an urgent care clinic. But if you have a detached appendage, you’re bleeding profusely, or you can’t walk, talk, or stay awake, call 911 or go directly to your nearest emergency room for treatment.
MedHelp urgent care clinics in Birmingham are equipped with all the tools needed to effectively treat your cuts or wounds. Whether you need stitches, a tetanus shot, or an x-ray, you can visit MedHelp urgent care clinics seven days a week for treatment.
If you’ve got a nasty cut or wound that needs medical care, MedHelp urgent care clinics can help. Our Birmingham clinics are open seven days a week with extended hours on weekdays.