What Are the Different Types of Operating Room Instruments?

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  • Written By: Jeri Sullivan
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Operating room instruments are tools and equipment surgeons use to perform medical procedures. The different types of operating room instruments include forceps, retractors, scalpels, clamps, suctions, and punches. The instruments are often used more than once and are kept sterile with a chemical solution designed to kill germs.

Forceps are similar to tweezers and are used to grasp. The most common forms of forceps are Bonney, Debakey and Russian. Bonney forceps have saw-like teeth along the inside edge and pinschers on the end. Debakey forceps are smooth from top to bottom and taper to a small point. Russian forceps are smooth from along the sides and taper to a circular end that contains small teeth for grasping tissue.

Retractors are scissor style operating room instruments and are used to retract bone or tissue. Retraction is necessary for the surgeon to more easily move around in the body cavity and see what area needs repair. The different types of retractors used include Deep Gelpi, Mayo Body Wall, Richardson, and Weitlaner.


The Deep Gelpi retractor is one of the most common retractors and has a large upwardly curving form with overlapping pointed ends. This type of retractor is used during orthopedic and spine operations. The Mayo Body Wall retractor, as the name suggests, was designed for doctors at the Mayo Clinic and is primarily used during abdominal surgeries. This retractor has a large cupped end similar to a soup ladle which makes moving layers of fat and abdominal muscle easier than the other types of retractors. The Richardson retractor has a large flat end and is used for general surgery while the Weitlaner has small teeth used to hold open tighter spaces.

Clamps are also operating room instruments used for grasping. Unlike forceps, which closely resemble tweezers, clamps have scissor-like handles that allow the surgeon to have a firmer grasp on the tissue. The different types of clamps include Allis, Babcock, and Kocher. The Allis clamp has a curved end with small teeth and is used for breast or bowel tissue. The Babcock clamp has a curved end with a hole in the middle that allows for soft tissue grasping without significant tissue damage, and the Kocher clamp has straight small teeth used specifically to grasp bone.

Suctions are operating room instruments used for removing fluid from the area of the body cavity where the surgeon is performing the medical procedure. The Poole suction is the most common and can suction blood and other fluids quickly due to the multi-holed design. The Kerrison punch is another instrument surgeons may use and is designed to cut bones. The hard metal surface has a sharp notched end that allows smooth cuts during spinal or neurosurgery.


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