What are Forceps?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Forceps are a hinged, handheld medical instrument used to hold objects. Outside of the medical profession, similar instruments are referred to by many different names, including tweezers, pliers, and tongs. Some forceps are hinged at one end, like tweezers, while some are hinged in the middle, like scissors. They may be made of a variety of materials depending upon their intended use.

Forceps may be either locking or non-locking. The non-locking variety, also called thumb forceps, are used to grasp things only for a short period of time. They may have flat, serrated, or cross-hatched grasping surfaces. Serrated tips are used to grasp body tissue, since they allow for a firm grasp with less pressure, making them gentler on body tissues.

Locking forceps, also called clamps, are usually hinged in the middle and feature interlocking teeth between the finger holds. Clamps are used to hold objects in place for a prolonged period of time. Some specialized types are the hemostat, used to hold an artery closed to prevent bleeding, and the needle holder, used to facilitate sutures, or stitches, in body tissue. Needle holders often have curved ends, allowing the needle to be placed at the proper angle. Both hemostats and needle holders are commonly used during surgery.


One of the most widely used hemostats is the Kelly or Rochester forceps, a tool made of stainless steel that can be sterilized between uses. A smaller version of the tool, known as the Mosquito, can be used for more delicate jobs, while the Carmalt is longer and heavier. Disposable forceps are often made of plastic and provided with sterile packaging.

Obstetric forceps are a specialized tool used to deliver babies. The grasping ends are wide, long, and curved rather than meeting at a flat surface. They are gently placed around the baby's head to guide the baby out.

In the modern era, this type of delivery is only used when the baby's head has already entered the pelvic cavity. It is a risky procedure and only used if natural delivery is not possible for some reason. Complications can include bruising of the birth canal or the baby, tears in the vagina, and skull fracture or nerve damage in the baby. However, it is quicker and less invasive than the an emergency Caesarean section (C-section).


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