Everyone cuts themselves once in a while, but most of these cuts do not require stitches—they will heal on their own with time and perhaps a little antibiotic ointment. But how do you know if a specific cut does need stitches? Here are five key signs to look for.
1. The cut is more than 1/8 inch deep.
If the wound in question is more than 1/8 inch deep, you may have done some more serious damage to the tissues beneath the surface of the skin, and you should have stitches to promote faster healing. The exception is on very muscular areas, like your calf and arm. Cuts that are about 1/8 inch deep can heal on their own in these fleshy areas—but you'll need stitches for anything 1/4 inch deep or deeper.
2. The cut is very smooth.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but cuts that have rougher or more jagged edges tend to heal better than those that have very smooth edges. Smooth edges have a hard time "sticking" back together. So if you cut yourself with a sharp knife, you are more likely to need stitches than if you were to scrape yourself on a rough saw blade (assuming the cuts are the same length and depth).
3. The cut is long.
Most cuts longer than one inch need stitches—even if they are on the shallow side. This is because long cuts don't tend to hold together very well. The edges get floppy rather than staying together so the wound can heal. In some cases, you may get away with a butterfly bandage with a long, shallow cut—but head to urgent care or the emergency room to have your cut looked at just in case.
4. You have a bleeding disorder.
If you have a blood clotting disorder or you are on medications like Coumadin that interfere with your clotting, you should head to the doctor if you get anything more than a small scratch. Your wound may not stop bleeding on its own without stitches.
5. The wound is located on a joint.
If the cut is located on a joint or right by one, it will open and close each time you move that joint. You should have it stitched so that it heals without leaving a huge scar.
If you are ever in doubt as to whether a cut needs stitches, err on the side of caution and visit an urgent care.