What Is a Senn Retractor?

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  • Written By: Andy Josiah
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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A Senn retractor is a type of retractor notable for its double ends. It belongs to a class of medical instruments used for a wide variety of surgical procedures. It is a rather specialized retractor, particularly when compared with other types of retractors.

In the medical community, a retractor is a tool that surgeons use to pull back the edges of the incisions they make on their patients. That way, surgeons can increase the visibility of the area of the body they wish to work on. The retractor is usually made of steel. One end, which may be called a spreader, is used to separate and hold back the incision. The other end serves as the handle.

The Senn retractor is notable for having both ends functioning as spreaders, rather than split between a spreader and a handle. One end of the retractor has a three-pronged claw designed in a curling fashion. The other end is L-shaped and consists of a single blade.

Although the Senn retractor stands apart from several other retractors in certain features, it is similar in others. For instance, the spreader of the Richardson retractor, also known as the Richardson-Eastmann retractor, is L-shaped. Another example is the Deaver retractor, which has a spreader that curves like the Senn retractor’s three-pronged blade. The Richardson and Deaver retractors, however, are single-ended tools rather than double-ended ones.


Also, the Senn retractor is generally used for performing orthopedic surgery, especially for operating on the hands and feet. By contrast, several retractors like the Deaver and Richardson retractors are used for operations performed in the chest or abdominal area. Thus the Senn retractor can be considered a tool for specific surgical procedures. The aptly named dental retractor is another example, since it is specifically designed to separate and hold back the jaws of dental patients for the surgeon to operate on the teeth. The Senn retractor is also used for pulling back soft tissue.

The Senn retractor is named after the person who came up with its design. Although there is very little else known about the tool’s origin, the use of the retractor as a medical instrument can be traced back as far as the 10th century A.D., when Arab physician Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, known to the Western world as Albucasis, described it in his medical encyclopedia titled Kitab al-Tasrif. The Sklar Corporation, which is based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is possibly the best known manufacturer of Senn retractors. It calls its brand the Sklar Miller-Senn Retractor.


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