Wellness & Education

Stitches, Staples or Glue?

Have you ever had surgery, or been treated for a severe cut? If so, you may have noticed that sometimes providers use stitches (also known as “sutures”); sometimes they use staples and sometimes they use medical adhesive (what the rest of us call glue) when closing up a cut.  

What to Use When

While we can’t offer a clear-cut “stitches, staples and glue” rule book, we can explain some of the advantages of each.  

Advantages of Stitches 

There are two kinds of stitches: absorbable and permanent.  

  • Absorbable stitches dissolve in the body so they do not have to be removed by a provider.  
  • Both types of stitches are strong.  
  • Both are inexpensive.  
  • Both are useful if there is a cut in an area of the body that moves a lot, such as at a joint or on the hand or foot.  
  • Absorbable stitches are particularly useful when sewing up cuts that have been made deep inside the body.  

Advantages of Staples 

Staples can also be absorbable or permanent, just like stitches.  

  • As with stitches, the staples that are permanent have to be removed by a provider and the ones that are absorbable do not.  
  • Staples are very strong.  
  • They can be put in more quickly than stitches. This can be important when time is short, either because of an emergency or because your provider doesn’t want you to spend as much time under anesthesia.  

Advantages of Medical Adhesives  

  • Medical adhesives don’t involve poking anything through the skin, so they are less painful than stitches or staples.  
  • Adhesives take less time than stitches. 
  • There is nothing to remove since the adhesive eventually breaks down and is absorbed (internally) or peels and falls off (externally). Therefore, it may be possible to avoid a follow-up appointment.  
  • There is a lower risk of infection. 
  • Adhesives have a lower risk of scarring.  
  • Sedation isn’t needed when adhesives are used. This can be especially beneficial when treating young children.  

Using Adhesives at Home

There are multiple over-the-counter medical adhesives for sale at your local pharmacy. They are intended for minor cuts only but are useful additions to the home first aid kit. Super Glue on Cuts: When and Why to Use It (healthline.com)

Serious cuts and wounds should always be cared for by a healthcare provider.