What is a Balfour Retractor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 05 July 2019
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A Balfour retractor is a surgical instrument which is used by a surgeon to hold open abdominal incisions during a laparotomy. Retractors of all shapes and sizes are used to clearly expose the surgical site during surgeries so the surgeon can see what he or she is doing, and they work in a variety of ways. In the case of a Balfour retractor, the device holds itself in place, leaving the hands of surgeon and assistants free to focus on surgical tasks. In laparoscopic surgery, retractors are not used, with the surgeon making a series of small incisions and viewing the site of the surgery with cameras.

This particular retractor consists of a long rod with two attached loops on either side and a central retractor blade. The loops can be pushed apart to open up the wound, and a ratcheting device holds them in place, although these retractors have been known to slide themselves closed under intense pressure. The central blade can be raised or lowered to increase the view of the surgical field or to hold tissue out of the way so a surgeon can operate.


These devices come in several different sizes, including pediatric versions designed for use in surgery on children. The Balfour retractor was developed at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, and is a commonly used surgical tool found in operating rooms all over the world. Surgical supply companies often carry a range of these retractors along with replacement parts which can be installed if part of the retractor fails in use.

Like other surgical instruments, a Balfour retractor is designed to be used again and again. This tool is classically made from surgical steel, a high-grade steel which is designed to withstand the strain of use and processing in an autoclave for sterilization. After a surgery is complete, the retractor will be logged along with the other tools used by a nurse who confirms all the instruments used in the surgery are accounted for, and then it will be washed and sterilized so it can be safely used on another patient.

In addition to being used in surgery on humans, the Balfour retractor is also used for veterinary surgery. For large animals, it may be used in locations other than the abdomen, such as the neck. A veterinarian may, for example, utilize a Balfour retractor to expose the vocal cords of a horse, depending on the approach used and the type of surgery.


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