iWOC Nursing Foundation Transforming Healthcare, One Person At A Time.

Surgical Wounds

A surgical incision is a cut through the skin that is made during surgery. It also called a surgical wound. Surgical wounds are commonly closed with sutures or staples during surgery.  The size of the incision will depend on the kind of surgery you had.

Sometimes, a surgical wound will break open (wound dehiscence). This may occur along the entire incision or just a portion of it. Your doctor may decide not to re-close the wound.  For a small portion of other surgical wounds, the surgeon is unable to close the wound during surgery.  In both circumstances care must be taken to allow the wound to heal from the base of the wound upward.


The following things may contribute to wound dehiscence or delayed healing of a surgical wound.

  • Non-compliance with the care of a surgical site as ordered by the physician.

  • Inappropriate activity i.e. lifting following surgery may put tension on incision lines or surgically-repaired structures.

  • Tight clothing or clothing that rubs against the incision

  • Prior history of infection

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Diseases that affect blood flow such as peripheral vascular disease or atherosclerosis

Care Basics

  • Follow the doctor’s orders regarding the type and frequency of dressing changes.

  • Observe all activity restrictions ordered by your physician.  Activity may be limited or encouraged based on the type of surgery.

  • Maintain good hand hygiene.  Wash your hands before and after care of the surgical site.


Call your doctor if the wound is gets larger or deeper, overly dry, or turns dark. The presence of necrosis (dead tissue), which includes slough (yellow, tan, gray, green, or brown) and/or eschar (tan, brown, or black) must be removed before healing can occur.

Contact your physician immediately if there are any signs of an infection. An infection can spread to the rest of the body and cause serious problems. Signs of an infected ulcer include:

  • Redness, tenderness, warmth, or selling around the ulcer

  • A foul odor or pus from the ulcer

  • Fever, weakness, and confusion are signs that the infection may have spread to the blood or elsewhere in the body.

This information is for educational purposes, only.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. The iWOC Foundation disclaims any liability for any decisions made based on this information.