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Surgical wound care - closed

Surgical incision care; Closed wound care


An incision is a cut through the skin made during surgery. It is also called a "surgical wound." Some incisions are small. Others are very long. The size of an incision depends on the kind of surgery you had.

To close your incision, your doctor used one of the following:

Proper wound care can help prevent infection and reduce scarring as your surgical wound heals.

Caring for Your Wound

When you come home after surgery, you may have a dressing on your wound. Dressings do several things, including:

You can leave your original dressing in place for as long as your health care provider says. You will want to change it sooner if it becomes wet or soaked with blood or other fluids.

Do not wear tight clothing that rubs against the incision while it is healing.

Your provider will tell you how often to change your dressing. Your provider likely gave you specific instructions on how to change the dressing. The steps outlined below will help you remember.

Getting prepared:

Remove the old dressing.

When you put on a new dressing:

If you have non-dissolvable stitches or staples, the provider will remove them. Do not pull at your stitches or try to remove them on your own.

Bathing or Showering

Your provider will let you know when it is OK to shower or bathe after surgery. Usually it is fine to shower after 24 hours. Keep in mind:

At some point during the healing process, you will not need a dressing anymore. Your provider will tell you when you can leave your wound uncovered.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if there are any of the following changes around the incision:

You should also call your doctor if the drainage coming from or around the incision increases or becomes thick, tan, green, or yellow, or smells bad (pus).

Also call if your temperature is above 100°F (37.7°C) for more than 4 hours.


Boukovalas S, Aliano KA, Phillips LG, Norbury WB. Wound healing. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 6.

Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M. Wound care and dressings. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2017:chap 25.


Review Date: 4/20/2022  

Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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