What Is a Lateral Incision?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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A lateral incision is a cut on one of a patient's sides. The term lateral refers to the side of an organism and may refer to any part of a patient's side, including the head, neck, torso, arms, and legs. The patient's body as a whole contains a left and right lateral side as do each of the patient's limbs. An incision is any type of cut, though generally one made surgically, for the benefit of the patient.

One common type of lateral incision runs down the patient's side with one end of the cut towards the patient's head and the other end towards the patient's feet. It is also possible for an incision to be cut perpendicular to a patient's height, and as long as this incision is made on the person's side rather than on the patient's front or back, it can be considered a lateral one. It is also possible for an incision to begin on the patient's front or back and to be cut laterally, which means that the incision will move towards the person's side.


Though a lateral incision can be made with any sharp blade, the most common tool that doctors use to make this or any other incision is a scalpel. This tool has an extremely sharp blade attached to a handle that facilitates the fine, precise movements needed to cut into a patient. The blade of a scalpel can be made out of metal, ceramic, or sharpened stone, such as obsidian. The scalpel must be sterilized so that harmful microorganisms do not enter the patient's body through the incision.

There are many different reasons for a doctor to make a lateral incision on a patient's body. Frequently, these incisions are made so that a surgeon can gain access to a patient's organs, muscles or bones. Once the incision is made, a surgeon can repair damaged bones, sew torn internal tissues together or place beneficial hardware into the patient's body.

After a lateral incision has been made, the surgeon must close up the wound so that it will heal properly. Stitches are commonly used to hold the damaged skin together until the tissues grow back together. Depending on the depth and length of the lateral incision, the stitches may pass through just the top layers of skin or may be set beneath the skin in the subcutaneous layer.


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