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What Is a Degloving Injury?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 18, 2021

Degloving happens when a large piece of skin and the layer of soft tissue right under it partially or completely rip from your body. These layers of skin don't receive blood even if they are still attached to the injured area.

Often, degloving injuries are very serious. If you have one, there won’t be much doubt in your mind about what’s happened: Your skin will be stripped back from the injured area like a glove. 

Accordingly, a degloved foot is signified by part or total detachment of the top skin layers of your foot.

Degloving can range from superficial to dangerously deep. Depending on how intense your injury is, it might be fixable or there could be serious negative long-term effects. If part of your skin has been degloved, you should treat it as soon as possible.

Common Degloving Injuries

Degloving injuries are often called degloving soft tissue injuries, and any part of your body covered by the skin can become degloved. The body parts where degloving happens most often include the hands, feet, legs, and arms. 

When a body part is caught on something and pulled away violently, the skin and soft tissue peel back, revealing a large portion of flesh. It happens frequently during car accidents, incidents involving heavy machinery like conveyor belts, or forceful removal of rings from fingers.

In a road accident, for example, if a tire runs over your foot you could end up with a degloved foot in a number of ways. The intense pressure of the tire combined with some sort of motion — e.g., pulling your foot out from under the tire or the tire dragging over your foot — may peel the skin and soft tissue off, leaving you with a degloved foot.

Treating a Degloving Injury

Because of the wide range of possible degloving injuries, there are numerous treatment options — the use of which depends on how serious your wound is. The treatment process itself is generally very complicated and requires health professionals to make a series of important decisions in a short period. But, the basic steps of all the above options are the same. 

Less severe injuries are fixed with skin grafts or skin flaps, while more serious injuries could need reconstructive surgery or amputation.

The earlier a degloving injury is treated, the better. In the treatment, the first priority is to save as much skin as possible. Here, the degloved skin or skin from another part of the body is used to cover exposed flesh through a skin graft or a skin flap.

If too much blood is lost or if the injury is extremely deep, your limb or life could be in danger. A simple skin graft won’t fix this. Reconstructive surgery can help you rebuild your injured body part, but amputation will be considered if your injury is life-threatening.

Skin Graft and Skin Flap

Skin grafts and skin flaps are similar components used in reconstructive surgeries. By placing new skin over the wound, reconstructive surgeries aim at treating degloving injuries to make the affected areas appear as normal as possible. 

The main difference between a skin graft and a skin flap is that skin grafts are attached to the injury without a blood supply while skin flaps are attached with a blood supply. New skin needs a healthy blood supply to survive, so while both are good options for treatment, skin flaps have a better chance of staying effective.

Long-Term Effects of Degloving

If you have a degloving injury, you could expect various long-term effects depending on how serious your injury was. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have a scar or some trace of the wound. You may need a long healing process, undergo therapy and rehabilitation, need regular aftercare from your doctor, or be left without the functionality of a former body part.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

European Journal of Trauma: “Degloving Injury.”

Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery: “Degloving injuries of the hand.”

International Journal of Surgery Case Reports: “Degloved foot sole successfully reconstructed with split thickness skin grafts.”

Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock: “The therapeutic challenges of degloving soft-tissue injuries.”

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