Sutures are versatile and familiar, with usage dating back to the 16th century BCE. This has made them the default choice for surgeons who may not be as familiar with newer wound closure technology. Of course, one of the questions many patients have following a procedure is, “How long does it take for sutures to heal?” It may not surprise you to learn that the answer is not cut and dried; of course, the wound heals, not the sutures, which is either absorbed into the body or removed by a physician. Even still, the time it takes for sutures to biodegrade or the timeframe in which your doctor removes them will depend on the type of sutures used, the severity of the wound or incision, and its location.
Types of Sutures
It’s important to understand that stitches can be absorbable or nonabsorbable. The former will eventually break down and be absorbed naturally into the body with no removal necessary; the latter will require a return trip to the doctor to have them removed (never attempt to remove them yourself). There are a number of types of sutures within each category.
Types of Absorbable Sutures
Different types of absorbable sutures are used depending on wound or incision location and severity, the type of procedure, and the patient’s age. Because they’re more prone to scarring than nonabsorbable stitches, they are used internally to close the deepest parts of a wound or incision, with nonabsorbable sutures applied or adhesives applied to the skin’s surface.
- Natural. Derived from purified catgut, collagen, sheep and cow intestines, these natural sutures are used in the repair of internal soft tissue wounds or lacerations. Gut is not suitable for cardiovascular or neurological surgical procedures. Its use is generally limited to obstetric-gynecological procedures.
- Poliglecaprone (Monocryl) and Polyglycolic Acid (Dexon). This suture, a synthetic monofilament (i.e., a single strand of man-made fiber), is typically used to close deep, multi-layer lacerations.
- Polydioxanone (PDS). Another synthetic monofilament suture that is commonly used for soft tissue wound repair (e.g., abdominal closures) and pediatric cardiac procedures.
- Polyglactin (Vicryl). A synthetic braided suture often used for repairing hand or facial lacerations. It shouldn’t be used for cardiovascular or neurological procedures.
Types of Nonabsorbable Sutures
Nonabsorbable sutures can be used for most types of soft tissue repair, including cardiovascular and neurological procedures.
- Nylon, polyester, and polypropylene. Synthetic monofilament sutures often coated with teflon, polybutilate, or silicone to make them easier to handle.
- Silk. A braided, natural suture offering high tensile strength and easy handling. However, as an animal protein, silk carries a significant risk of infection.
How Long Until an Absorbable Suture Dissolves?
The timeframe for an absorbable suture to dissolve can vary wildly, from about ten days to as long as a few months. It may depend on the surgical procedure, type of wound or incision being closed, the suture material type, and the size of the suture.
The absorption time frame also depends greatly on a person’s own body. Absorbable sutures are treated as a foreign object that doesn’t belong in the body, and the immune system goes to work trying to destroy the perceived invasions. A person’s ability to break it down quickly may depend on their overall health.
How Long Until Nonabsorbable Sutures Are Removed?
Once again, this varies, usually depending on where they are on the body. The following, as noted by the American Family Physician, provides a good guideline:
- Face: 3 to 5 days
- Scalp: 7 to 10 days
- Arms: 7 to 10 days
- Chest: 10 to 14 days
- Legs: 10 to 14 days
- Hands and feet: 10 to 14 days
- Palms and soles: 14 to 21 days
Are There Alternatives to Sutures?
We’re glad you asked. While sutures have stood the test of time, they still present a number of challenges:
- They can be time-consuming to apply and may require a return trip to the doctor.
- They require the use of a needle, which can lead to needlestick injuries.
- They can result in significant scarring, especially in an emergency situation when scar-reduction is not a priority.
- The suture materials can cause infection.
If you’re concerned about any of the above factors, be sure to ask your surgeon about BandGrip. Resembling a typical adhesive bandage, BandGrip’s patented micro-anchors grip the skin tightly and hold wound edges together securely, which offers many advantages:
- Faster and easier application versus sutures and staples.
- Eliminates the risk of needlestick injuries.
- Results in less scarring than sutures or staples.
- Supports better mobility due to its smooth, water-resistant surface.
- Does not require a return visit for removal.
Learn more about the power of BandGrip here.