Stitches, Staples, Glue: Which Do You Need?

If you or your child has a minor cut or scrape at home, you should clean the wound and stick a bandage over it.

But if you have a more severe gash, cut, or break in the skin, a doctor might use other options to close your wound. These might include stitches, staples, glue, or zippers. The type of material and technique your doctor uses will depend on many things, like what type of injury you have, your age and health, your doctor’s experience and preference, and what materials are available.

Adhesive Tape

Doctors use sticky strips of tape (such as Steri-Strips) to pull together the edges of minor skin wounds. Skin tape costs less than other types of materials used to close wounds. But tape can lose its stickiness over time, especially if it gets wet. If it gets loose, the wound can break open.

Your doctor may use adhesive tape if you have a minor cut, laceration, or incision (low-tension wound). He might also use it during surgery if you have buried or absorbable skin sutures (stitches).

The strips usually fall off by themselves in about 10 days.

Sutures (Stitches)

This is the most common technique for closing skin wounds. A doctor uses a piece of surgical thread called a suture to sew (or stitch) two ends of skin together. Surgeons once used animal tendons, horsehair, pieces of plants, or human hair to create sutures. Today, they’re made from natural or manmade materials like plastic, nylon, or silk.

Sutures may be permanent or absorbable (they dissolve in the body). Which type your doctor chooses depends on many things, including the type of incision and your risk of infection.

Your doctor may use permanent sutures for:

  • Wounds that might take a long time to heal
  • Closing surgical incisions, including those made for drainage tubes
  • Tying off blood vessels or parts of the bowel
  • Wounds involving connective tissue (fascia), muscles, or blood vessels

He might choose absorbable sutures for wounds that involve:

  • Lower layers of skin
  • Muscle and connective tissue
  • Lining inside the mouth
  • Areas with blood vessels close to the surface of the skin

Doctors sometimes use fast-absorbing sutures for skin grafts. That’s when your doctor covers lost or damaged skin with a patch of healthy skin.

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Glue (Tissue Adhesive)

Doctors use surgical glue -- also called “tissue adhesive” or "liquid stitches"-- to close both major and minor wounds, such as lacerations, incisions made during laparoscopic surgery, and wounds on the face or in the groin.

Benefits of surgical glue include:

  • Lower rates of infection
  • Less time in the operating room
  • Less scarring
  • No needle sticks or stitches (child friendly)
  • Quicker return to work and other activities, like sports
  • No stitches to remove

Surgical glue costs more than sutures. Some people are allergic to it. The glue can’t be used if you have an increased risk for slow wound healing (this occurs with diabetes and other health conditions).

Application of the glue requires a precise technique. Ask your doctor about his experience using this wound-closure material.

Staples

Doctors can use a skin stapler to quickly close a long skin wound or cut in a hard-to-reach area. Staples may dissolve in the body -- meaning they’re absorbable -- or may be external and need to be removed by your doctor.

There are a number of benefits to using medical staples. They allow your doctor to quickly close your wound with minimal damage. They’re easier to remove than stitches, and you spend less time under anesthesia.

With absorbable staples, you also have a lower risk of infection. Wounds tend to heal better, and you have fewer issues with scarring.

Zipper

This is an alternative to conventional sutures. It’s often used for wounds that need to be monitored by your doctor on a regular basis. It combines a zipper with two strips of adhesive, which are placed on either side of the wound and trimmed to size after surgery. When the zipper closes, it pulls the edges of the skin together. Studies show it’s painless to remove, so it could be a good option for kids. The zipper can’t be used in obese patients and those with wounds that curve more than 20 degrees.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 28, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital: “Steri-strips.”

Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery: “Cutaneous Wound Closure Materials: An Overview and Update.”

Wound Care Centers: “Wound Closure.”

PLoS One: “Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Surgical Zipper Technique Versus Intracutaneous Sutures for the Closing of Surgical Incision.”

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