What is Surgical Wound Care?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Surgical wound care refers to the dressing and treatment of the incision site left after surgery. The size of the wound may be long or short depending on the surgery, but the general steps in post operation treatment are the same. Most patients spend the first day or so in the hospital to recover from surgery, but it is important for them to know the proper surgical wound care techniques for when they return home.

Wounds are generally covered with a non-stick bandage or dressing. For the first day after surgery, the dressing should remain in place at all times. In some cases it may begin to slip. When this happens, it should be removed gently and replaced with a new bandage. The hospital or doctor's offices should provide patients with additional dressing for use at home, but if they don't, it is important to use a non-stick variety to prevent pulling and tugging at the incision site.

Most surgical wound care procedures also include the use of either bacitracin or polysporin ointments to help speed up the process of healing. These should be used twice each day after the wound has been cleaned with mild soap and warm water. Patients should not use other types of ointment because they can cause irritation and redness.


In most patients, bleeding and oozing of a clear liquid the day following surgery is considered normal. If it persists after that time, it is likely caused by too much movement at the incision site. Patients should keep the area as still as possible one to two days after surgery, and then regain activity slowly thereafter. Should bleeding begin, pressure should be applied to the area using a clean bandage. Most times, this will stop the bleeding. Continued bleeding should be reported to a physician.

Three days post-operation, patients are generally allowed to shower or bathe. The wound may become wet, but water should not be sprayed directly to the incision. If pain or irritation occurs, it is often a good idea to wait another day or so before attempting to shower again. Wet bandages should always be replaced with dry ones immediately.

Proper surgical wound care also means cleaning the area thoroughly with a cotton swab to remove any dried blood or crusting. This can be done during daily washings or separately. Bandages should be replaced and ointments should be reapplied after each cleaning.

In some patients the incision will remain swollen, warm, or painful for several days after an operation. Most times, pain medication will be given by the patient's doctor. Ice packs can also be used to alleviate swelling and pain used in 10 to 20 minute intervals.


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