How to Take Care of Dressings After Surgery

How to Take Care of Dressings After Surgery

After a hand injury or surgery, you will have gotten dressed. Well, you got dressed in your own clothes, but your hand or arm may have, too. “Dressing” is the term used by medical professionals to describe the materials placed on top of a wound or incision that helps keep your wound protected and free from infection. There are several different kinds of dressings used depending on your needs, and while your wound or incision heals, you may use more than one.

Types of Dressings

  • Surgical Glue: a shiny, hard layer on top of your skin. Falls off over time and can get wet, but you want to avoid lotions or ointments, as they may cause the glue to dissolve early.
  • Ointment: a cream or gel used to keep a wound or incision moist. Usually the first layer of dressing, a thin layer applied directly to the wound or incision with a finger or Q-Tip.
  • Splint: made of hard materials like plaster, ortho-glass, or plastic, that holds your joints still. A splint will protect a broken bone or repaired structure or be used to help you remember to rest your hand or arm while healing. If your splint is made of plaster or ortho-glass, avoid getting it wet, as it will lose its shape.
  • Packing: used for deep wounds, packing material is used to heal a wound from the bottom layers up. It is best to use a continuous piece of material, like gauze strips or gauze roll, so that nothing gets left in the wound by accident. Packing material should be placed gently in the wound, enough to fill, but not over-pack.
  • Non-stick Gauze: a barrier between your wound and the rest of the dressings. Helps make dressing changes more comfortable as it keeps the rest of your dressings from sticking when a wound or incision uses ointment or has blood or fluid leaking from it.
  • Absorbent Padding: dry gauze squares, gauze roll, or abdominal pads (ABD pads) used to absorb small amounts of blood or fluid. Pay attention to how much absorbent padding is used when you remove your dressing and use the same amount when you replace.
  • Bandage Wraps: a wrap that usually comes in a roll, like Ace Bandages or Coban wraps, used to hold dressings in place. It is important to wrap tight enough to keep everything in place, but not too tight so that it is painful.
  • Wound VAC (Vacuum-Assisted Closure) or Negative Pressure Wound Therapy: a specialized dressing consisting of a foam bandage covered with adhesive and hooked up to a machine that creates suction. This dressing can remove fluid from a wound, reduce swelling, and help an open wound heal faster. This dressing will be changed in your physician’s office or by a Home Health Care provider.
  • Drains: placed inside your wound at the time of surgery, usually hooked up to a bulb or container, sewn in place to help it from falling out. A drain helps remove extra fluid from your wound until your body has enough time to remove the fluid on its own. Drains are usually removed at a physician’s office.

How to Take Care of Your Dressing

Depending on your injury or surgery, your physician will determine what dressing is right for you. You will want to keep your dressing clean and dry, so avoid tasks that will disrupt, wet, or dirty your dressing. There are exceptions, like using a sealed plastic bag over your hand or arm while bathing.

If a dressing requires changing, your physician will explain how to cleanse your wound when its ready to get wet. You may be instructed to wash your wound with water and a gentle soap (without glitter, beads, exfoliants, or anything else that can get stuck in your wound), to use a wound cleanser or cleansing wipe, but most importantly, you will be told to make sure that the wound or incision be dry before you apply new dressing. Any further instructions or questions will be discussed with your physician.

Learn more about dressings after a hand injury or surgery here.

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