What are cuts and lacerations?

A cut is a smooth wound which breaks the skin. Most people have experienced a minor cut. Lacerations can be deeper with a more irregular shape and often have jagged edges with possible bruising or bleeding. A deep cut or laceration can affect tendons, muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, or bone. Proper treatment reduces the risk of infection, scarring, and further complications.

What causes cuts and lacerations?

A cut or laceration can happen when skin comes into contact with a sharp object, such as a knife or shard of glass, or blunt force which tears the skin. This usually occurs without warning and during normal daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, operating machinery, or playing sports.

What are the signs of a cut or laceration?

Cuts are usually obvious, both visually and symptomatically. In many cases, tissue injury is minimal. Severe lacerations may extend through the skin into muscle, bone, or internal organs.

In addition to usually seeing a cut when it happens, symptoms may include:

  • Pain (mild to severe depending upon the injury)
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Skin discoloration

Seek treatment from a physician if you experience any of the following:

  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Blood spurting out of the wound
  • Cuts or lacerations to the eye
  • Partially severed fingers or toes
  • Signs of shock (weak pulse, clammy skin, rapid breathing)

How are cuts and lacerations treated? 

Some minor cuts and lacerations can be treated at home. Others require treatment from a health care provider, especially if the wound is deep and bleeding cannot be stopped. Severe cuts and lacerations may require sutures or other treatments to close the wound. You may also need a tetanus shot and/or antibiotics to prevent bacterial infection if the injury involves a deep puncture wound or the wound is dirty.

For minor wounds, practice the following home care:

  • Stop the bleeding – Apply direct pressure on the wound and elevate the injured area.
  • Disinfect – Wash the area with gentle soap and warm water.
  • Prevent infection – Apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Protect the wound – Put a sterile bandage on the injury.
  • Manage pain – Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed on the package.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • An open wound is deeper or longer than half an inch.
  • You are unable to pull the edges of the wound together with minimal pressure.
  • Bleeding does not stop with direct pressure.
  • Bleeding lasts longer than 10 minutes.
  • There is numbness in the area around the injury.
  • There is swelling, pain, or redness around the wound (this may occur several days after the injury occurs).
  • You believe there may be a foreign body (glass, splinter, metal, dirt) in the wound.
  • The wound is in an area that you are concerned about scarring or has jagged edges.

Patient First treats many conditions at our urgent care centers including cuts and lacerations. You can visit any Patient First center from 8am to 8pm, any day of the week – no appointment is needed