What are the Different Types of Surgical Instruments?

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  • Written By: Klaus Strasser
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Surgical instruments are tools typically designed with the intent of aiding medical staff during medical procedures. Certain instruments are used in almost all types of surgery. These may include surgical scalpels used for making incisions in bodily tissues, or instruments such as retractors that hold open a part of the body, thereby allowing the doctor to perform the necessary work. Other instruments are specifically designed for a particular type of operation and are used only in these situations.

Almost all surgical instruments have a long and varied history within the medical sciences. Evidence for their use by humans has been traced back to the Stone Age. The continued development and refinement of these tools is a factor in the increasing success of surgical procedures, allowing for a wider variety of surgical procedures to be performed. The large number of different types of surgical instruments is a result of the radical range of problems that may confront a patient and medical personnel. Different types of instruments play specific roles in the surgery process and are used by the doctor and medical team according to the demands of a situation.


Two of the most common surgical instruments are forceps and scalpels. Forceps are used for grasping, particularly in the case when the hands are unable to hold miniscule objects. Forceps may also be used to grip various tissues, while the doctor uses her hands to perform another aspect of the surgery. There are many different types of forceps, however all of them have this same basic dual function.

Scalpel blades are an extremely common surgical instrument that is used to make incisions in the skin and tissue of a patient. Surgical scalpels typically are small, yet extremely sharp, and consist of two parts: the blade and the handle. The blades are usually replaceable, while the handles are mostly reusable. There are also many different types of scalpels, such as the lancet which has a double-edged blade. With the advancement of technology, many times scalpels can be replaced by lasers.

Other surgical instruments, such as sealing devices, usually are used upon conclusion of surgery. These sealing devices may include surgical staplers which are used to close the incisions made by the doctor. Surgical stapling has also proven more reliable than traditional suturing as it can decrease the possible rupturing of the sealed incision.


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Post 5

@backdraft - Absolutely. Think about an ear nose and throat doctor that is performing a delicate operation on the ear. They use all kinds of tools that have been adapted or invented especially to work on the complex anatomy of the ear. In many cases these tools would be useless or less than optimal if they were used on other parts of the body.

There is a general set of surgical instruments that show up in any surgical theater, but a huge range of specialized instruments that show up only when the procedure calls for them.

Post 4

Do surgeons performing specialized surgery use specialty surgical instruments?

Post 3

@nextcorrea - You are basically right. In principle the instruments are largely the same. You have to cut open, clamp, pull, twist and manipulate animal flesh the same as you would human flesh. But obviously there is a greater variety of surgical instruments for human's considering the vast number of procedures and fixes that can be performed on the human body.

There are also special instruments used only in veterinary medicine though. Working with animals presents some unique challenges that never come up in humans. How do you deal with all that fur? How do you operate on a horse with a gigantic heart? What do you do about feather and shells? Special instruments have been developed to deal with all these unique challenges.

Post 2

Does anybody know, are the instruments used for performing surgery on humans the same as veterinary surgical instruments? It seems like there would be both overlap and divergence.

Post 1

Reading this article made me think of all the times I've been watching medically themed TV shows and listening to the surgeon call out a laundry list of tools for the nurse to hand them. Scalpel! Clamp! Suction! Forceps! You get the feeling that there is an endless supply of tools that the nurse could potentially hand over.

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