Health Information A-Z

Health Information A-Z

Skin Injury (Cuts, Scrapes, Bruises)


  • Cuts and Scratches: Superficial cuts (scratches) only extend partially through the skin and rarely become infected. Deep cuts (lacerations) go through the skin (dermis).
  • Abrasions or Scrapes: An area of superficial skin that has been scraped off. Commonly occurs on the knees, elbows and palms.
  • Bruises: Bruises (contusions) result from a direct blow or a crushing injury; there is bleeding into the skin from damaged blood vessels without an overlying cut or abrasion.

Large Bruising from Coumadin
Large Bruising from Coumadin
  • This 74 year old female did not recall hurting her hand. She takes the blood thinner Coumadin.
  • The picture shows a large amount of bruising (ecchymosis) of the left hand. There is no broken bone (fracture).

Bruise on Shoulder
Bruise on Shoulder
  • This bruise is four days old.
  • Bruises (contusions) result from a direct blow or a crushing injury; there is bleeding into the skin from damaged blood vessels without an overlying cut or abrasion.

When are Stitches Needed?

  • Any cut that is split open or gaping probably needs sutures (stitches). Cuts longer than 1/2 inch (12 mm) usually need sutures. On the face, cuts longer than 1/4 inch (6 mm) usually need sutures.
  • A physician should evaluate any open wound that may need sutures regardless of the time that has passed since the initial injury.

Liquid Skin Bandage for Minor Cuts and Scrapes:

  • Liquid skin bandage has several benefits when compared to a regular bandage (e.g., a dressing or a Band-Aid). Liquid Bandage only needs to be applied once to minor cuts and scrapes. It helps stop minor bleeding. It seals the wound and may promote faster healing and lower infection rates. However, it is also more expensive.
  • After the wound is washed and dried, the liquid is applied by spray or with a swab. It dries in less than a minute and usually lasts a week. It is resistant to bathing.
  • Examples include: Band-Aid Liquid Bandage, New Skin, Curad Spray Bandage, and 3M No Sting Liquid Bandage Spray.

What is Tetanus?

  • Tetanus is a rare infection caused by bacteria that are found in many places, especially in dirt and soil. The tetanus bacteria enter through a break in the skin and then spread through the body.
  • Tetanus is commonly called "lock jaw" because the first symptom is a tightening of the muscles of the face.  However, the final stage of the infection is much more serious. All of the muscles of the body go into severe spasm, including the muscles that control breathing. Eventually a person with a tetanus infection loses the ability to breath, and may die in spite of intensive treatment in the hospital.
  • A tetanus booster protects you from getting a tetanus infection. It does not prevent other kinds of wound infection.

When does an Adult need a Tetanus Booster Shot?

  • Clean Cuts and Scrapes - Booster Needed Every 10 Years: Patients with clean MINOR wounds AND who have previously had 3 or more tetanus shots (full series), need a booster every 10 years. Examples of minor wounds include a superficial abrasion or a cut sustained while washing dishes. Obtain booster within 72 hours.
  • Dirty Cuts and Scrapes - Booster Needed Every 5 Years: Patients with dirty wounds need a booster every 5 years. Examples of dirty wounds include those contaminated with soil, feces, saliva and more serious wounds from deep punctures, crushing, and burns. Obtain booster within 72 hours. When in doubt, assume that it is a dirty wound.

Abrasion on Shoulder 
Abrasion on Shoulder
  • This patient fell and struck his shoulder on the sidewalk.
  • The picture shows a shallow abrasion with minor bleeding.


Bruise on the Thigh
Bruise on the Thigh
  • This bruise is one day old.
  • Bruises (contusions) result from a direct blow or a crushing injury; there is bleeding into the skin from damaged blood vessels without an overlying cut or abrasion.


Abrasion on the Elbow
Abrasion on the Elbow

This is a shallow (superficial) abrasion on the left elbow.

Small Bruise
Small Bruise

Small minor bruise (contusion) on forearm.

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If

FIRST AID Advice for Bleeding: Apply direct pressure to the entire wound with a clean cloth.

FIRST AID Advice for Severe Bleeding:

  • Place 2 or 3 sterile dressings (or a clean towel or washcloth) over the wound immediately.
  • Apply direct pressure to the wound, using your entire hand.
  • If bleeding continues, apply pressure more forcefully or move the pressure to a slightly different spot.
  • Act quickly because ongoing blood loss can cause shock.
  • Do not use a tourniquet.

FIRST AID Advice for Penetrating Object: If penetrating object still in place, don't remove it (Reason: removal could increase bleeding).

FIRST AID Advice for Shock: Lie down with feet elevated.

FIRST AID Advice for Transport of an Amputated Finger or Toe:

  • Briefly rinse amputated part with water (to remove any dirt).
  • Place amputated part in plastic bag (to protect and keep clean).
  • Place plastic bag containing part in a container of ice (to keep cool and preserve tissue).

Scalp Laceration
Scalp Laceration

This scalp laceration (cut) is gaping open. It required closure with medical staples.

Puncture Wound
Puncture Wound

Puncture wound with foreign body:

  • There is a small metal splinter (foreign body) embedded in the palm of the hand.
  • This patient went to the emergency department and had the splinter removed.


BB Puncture Wound
BB Puncture Wound

Puncture wound from a BB gun in left upper arm. Note the small hole in the arm where the BB struck and entered the skin.

Scratches from a Cat
Scratches from a Cat

The photo shows 3-4 parallel scratches on the wrist caused by a cat.

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Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If

  • Major bleeding (actively bleeding or spurting) that can't be stopped
  • Knife wound (or other possibly deep cut) to the chest, abdomen, back, neck, or head
  • NOTE: For bleeding, see First Aid

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • You think you have a serious injury
  • Severe pain
  • Bleeding that hasn't stopped after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Cut causes numbness (i.e., loss of sensation)
  • Cut causes weakness (i.e., decreased ability to move hand, finger, toe)
  • Cut is very deep (e.g., can see bone or tendons)
  • Cut is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • Dirt or grime in the wound is not removed after 15 minutes of scrubbing
  • Skin loss from bad scrape goes very deep
  • Skin loss involves greater than 10% of body surface (Note: the hand's surface equals 1%)
  • High pressure injection injury (e.g., from paint gun, usually work-related)
  • Cut or scrape looks infected (redness, red streak or pus)

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Several bruises occur without any known injury
  • Very large bruise follows a minor injury (wider than 2 inches)
  • Diabetic with any cut or scrape on foot

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • No tetanus booster in more than 10 years (5 years for dirty cuts and scrapes)

Self Care at Home If

  • Minor cut, scrape or bruise and you don't think you need to be seen
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  1. Treatment of Minor Cuts, Scratches and Scrapes (abrasions):
    • Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.
    • Wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes.
    • Gently scrub out any dirt with a washcloth.
    • Cut off any pieces of dead loose skin using a fine scissors (cleaned with rubbing alcohol before and after use).
    • Apply an antibiotic ointment, covered by a Band-Aid or dressing.  Change daily.
    • Another option is to use a Liquid Skin Bandage that only needs to be applied once. Avoid ointments with this.
  2. Treatment of Minor Bruise:
    • Apply a cold pack or an ice bag wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes each hour for 4 consecutive hours (20 minutes of cold followed by 40 minutes of rest for 4 hours in a row).
    • 48 hours after the injury, use local heat for 10 minutes 3 times each day to help reabsorb the blood.
    • Rest the injured part as much as possible for 48 hours.
  3. Pain Medication:
    • For pain relief, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol): The dose is 650 mg by mouth every 4 hours or 1000 mg by mouth every 6 hours. Maximum dose per day = 4000 mg.
    • Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil): The dose is 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours or 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.
    • People who are over 65 Years of age: Acetaminophen is generally considered safer than ibuprofen. Acetaminophen dosing interval should be increased to every 8 hours because of reduced liver metabolism. Maximum dose per day = 3000 mg.
    • CAUTION: Do not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of anti-inflammatory drug. Do not take ibuprofen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • CAUTION: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Read the package instructions thoroughly on all medications that you take.
  4. Expected Course: Pain and swelling usually begin to improve 2 or 3 days after an injury. Swelling is usually gone in 7 days. Pain may take 2 weeks to completely resolve.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Looks infected (pus, redness, increasing tenderness)
    • Does not heal within 10 days
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Last Reviewed: 3/15/2008

Last Revised: 4/5/2008

Developed by SelfCareNet, Inc.

SelfCareNet, Inc. Copyright (C) 2000-2008 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP All Rights Reserved.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new healthcare information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

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