Injured? Here’s How to Know If You Need Stitches

No matter how careful we are, scrapes and cuts are bound to happen. In fact, for some people, small cuts can become so common that it’s difficult to know when an injury requires stitches and when it can just be bandaged at home.

A world-renowned health care provider and insurer with Pennsylvania roots. Learn more about UPMC.

Cuts that occur in certain areas of the body or that are deep and/or dirty require immediate medical attention at an emergency room or urgent care center.

RELATED: How to Stop Bleeding and Treat Wounds at Home

What Should I Do When I Get Cut?

For very minor or shallow injuries, like paper cuts, simply clean the cut and apply a bandage, if necessary, to keep it clean.

For more severe cuts, take the following action:

  1. Wash the cut with water and gentle soap to prevent infection.
  2. Stop the bleeding by applying gentle pressure to the injury.
  3. Examine the edges of the wound. If the edges are smooth and stay together during normal body movement, treatment is probably not needed.

If you believe you may need medical attention, seek it within six to eight hours of getting the injury.

Does My Cut Need Stitches?

How to know if your cut needs stitches

Your wound may need stitches or other medical treatment if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • The cut is deeper than a quarter of an inch in length.
  • The cut was made by a dirty or rusty object and/or there is a risk of infection.
  • Fat, muscle, bone, or other deep body structures are visible due to the wound.
  • The cut is over a joint, especially if the edges open when you move the joint or if opening the wound shows muscle, bone, or joint structures.
  • The injury is deep and on your hand or finger.
  • You have cosmetic concerns about the wound (i.e. it is on the face or area you don’t want to have a scar).
  • After 15 minutes of pressure, the cut is still bleeding.

You may not need medical treatment for your cut if:

  • The cut has smooth edges that stay together as you move.
  • The wound is very shallow.
  • It is a puncture wound (they are usually smaller, with less risk of scarring, and they are more difficult to clean, so closing the wound increases the risk of sealing infection-causing bacteria which can grow inside).

If you are uncertain about the severity of your injury, seek immediate medical attention. Only a doctor can assess whether a cut requires stitches or an adhesive closure — and they can help you minimize your risk of infection and other complications. Find a UPMC emergency room or UPMC Urgent Care near you.