When To Get Stitches: Everything You Need to Know

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Not sure if your cut is bad enough for stitches? Read our handy guide to stitches, which includes information on knowing whether you need stitches and what could happen if you decide not to get them.

Stitches using different kinds of threads. Rows of stitches holding together the edges of a wound are called sutures, and sutures can be made of nylon, silk, or vicryl. 

Stitches can:

  • Close wounds or cuts
  • Prevent further blood loss
  • Minimize scarring

Not all wounds require stitches; however, they can be beneficial in protecting against infection for more severe cuts.

Determining If Stitches Are Necessary

First, you should call 9-1-1 immediately if you are experiencing uncontrolled bleeding. 

The following three factors about your cut will help a doctor determine whether you need stitches:


Wounds more than ¼-inch (6 millimeters deep) usually need stitches. If you can see yellowish fatty tissue in your wound, that’s a sign that it is deep enough to require stitches.


Gaping wounds or wounds that cannot be closed quickly almost always require stitches. If your injury has jagged edges, you should also check to see if you need stitches.


If your cut is in an area of your skin that moves and stretches often, you might need stitches. An example is a wound that is on or near a joint.

In addition to these rules, those who have diabetes or have an animal bite should always see a doctor, even if their wound seems like it might not need stitches.

What To Expect

Your doctor will examine your cut to see if stitches are essential. If they are, the doctor will first disinfect your wound and clean the surrounding area of the skin to prevent infection. Then, the doctor will prepare the sutures much like someone prepares a needle and thread to sew. Finally, the doctor creates a looping pattern from one end of the cut to close the wound.

In most cases, your doctor will use a local anesthetic so that this process is relatively painless. The anesthetic may be a numbing gel spread onto the skin or a liquid injection near the site of the wound. You will not feel pain with a local anesthetic, but you may feel a tugging at the skin as the doctor threads in the stitches. For severe wounds requiring many stitches, the doctor will use a general anesthetic so that you are unconscious throughout the procedure.

After Stitches

Always follow your doctor’s instructions for caring for your stitches. Most need to stay dry for a day or two. An antibiotic ointment and bandage are usually applied to prevent infection, and you will need to change these dressings at least once a day. If a stitch pops open or the wound becomes swollen or oozes pus, see your doctor.

Your stitches will stay in place until your skin has healed. The length of time it takes to recover will depend on the severity of the wound. A doctor can remove the stitches with tweezers once the healing is complete. You may also get a skin ointment that you can use once the stitches are out to help minimize scarring. One exception to this is when your stitches are with vicryl sutures. Vicryl is a type of thread that dissolves in the skin, meaning that you won’t need to go back to the doctor to get your stitches removed.

Possible Risks Of Avoiding Stitches

If you need stitches, it’s essential to clean and cover your wound and see a doctor as soon as possible. You can get stitches in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. In most cases, you have about 6 to 8 hours to get stitches before the wound is too contaminated to stitch up. Avoiding stitches for a severe cut could lead to the following complications:

  • Tenderness near the wound
  • Inflammation near the wound
  • Numbness near the wound
  • Red streaks near the wound
  • Scarring
  • Fever
  • Serious infection

Finally, don’t forget that you should see a doctor no matter what if there’s a chance that you could get tetanus. This severe infection can result from any cut if you haven’t had at least three tetanus vaccinations, with the most recent occurring within the last 5-10 years.

Stitches can be annoying, but they are usually the best thing for ensuring that you don’t get an infection and that your wound heals correctly. Always ask a doctor for guidance if you’re unsure whether you need stitches.