What is Wound Healing?

Erin J. Hill

Wound healing refers to the natural process taken by the body to repair damaged tissue. This can include healing of scrapes, puncture wounds, or wounds inflicted by another organism, as in the case of a spider bite. Most minor injuries can be effectively healed by the body itself, but some more severe wounds may need the aid of stitches or another preventative measure.

Keeping a wound covered and cleaned is an important step in wound healing.
Keeping a wound covered and cleaned is an important step in wound healing.

The process of healing is a complex one, although it is not possible to see what happens from the outside. When a wound first occurs, the body begins to tighten the blood vessels around the injury. This helps to restrict blood flow so that excessive bleeding doesn’t occur. With most small wounds this is no problem, but large wounds may still bleed out because the body cannot constrict the vessels fast enough to prevent blood loss. Additional emergency proceedings, such as tying a cloth around the area to cut off the flow of blood to the area, may be needed.

Minor injuries can be healed by the body itself.
Minor injuries can be healed by the body itself.

Once blood flow is slowed, platelets form around the opening of the wound and bind together in order to form a clot. Additional substances join the clot to keep it from shifting or becoming detached. This covers the wound to prevent additional bleeding and to prevent foreign matter from entering the wound.

When the tissue covering a wound becomes stronger, a scab will fall off on its own, so there's no need to pick at it or peel it.
When the tissue covering a wound becomes stronger, a scab will fall off on its own, so there's no need to pick at it or peel it.

The next step in wound healing helps to prevent the wound from becoming infected. In human beings, an anti-bacterial solution can be added to aid in this process, but the body also has natural mechanisms to help prevent infection. Since the wound is now scabbed over and closed, the blood vessels reopen to allow more red and white blood cells to enter the area. White blood cells then act to find and kill any bacteria that may have entered the wound.

A stab wound may require medical assistance in order to prevent infection.
A stab wound may require medical assistance in order to prevent infection.

Finally, wound healing involves the reconstruction of tissue and skin. Skin from each side of the wound beneath the scab eventually stretches outward to meet in the center of the wound. This sometimes results in a visible scar, depending on how severe the wound was. The tissue covering the wound becomes stronger over time, and eventually the scab tissue will fall off or reabsorb into the body.

Some instances may require additional help with wound healing. Very serious injuries, such as a stab wound which enters deep into the body, may require medical assistance in order to prevent infection, close the wound, and prevent bleeding. In addition to the body’s natural healing process, antibiotics, stitches, and blood clotting medications may need to be administered.

Compulsive picking at scabs may cause them to become infected.
Compulsive picking at scabs may cause them to become infected.

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Discussion Comments


I have always wondered what wound healing and dressings have to do with each other. My brother was bitten by a spider a few years ago, and the doctor packed his wound full of strips of gauze.

I know that she had to mash all the infected goo out of the wound, and that left a big gap. Maybe the dressing was to keep the remaining skin from falling in on itself!

She never really explained why she had to pack it up like that. My brother was in so much pain that he didn't care, so it remained a mystery.


@MikeMason – I've always used honey to heal wounds. It's fairly cheap, and I always prefer putting natural products on open wounds when I can. I don't like the thought of chemicals penetrating my open flesh.

Honey makes a good barrier to the outside world. It seals the wound just as well as a liquid bandage can, and it smells much better. Liquid bandages just smell so overwhelmingly chemical, and that makes me afraid to use them a lot.

I buy honey that has not been processed, because I hear that this is the best type to use on wounds. The more natural it is, the better.


@OeKc05 – That poor little dog! I had a similar thing happen to one of my dogs, and it's been several months, but he still has scars.

Just a couple of weeks after his first vet visit, he had another checkup. The vet could see that the wound was healing, but scars would be likely.

The dog he got into a fight with had really torn into him. His leg was swollen badly and bleeding profusely when I took him to the vet the first time.

The good thing about wound scars in dogs is that their hair will eventually grow back over the area and hide the scars. I'm glad to know that his battle scars won't always be so glaringly obvious.


My dog got bitten by the new aggressive dog next door. I didn't think that the bite was severe enough to warrant a trip to the vet, but a few days later, when his lymph nodes had swollen up and pus began to drip from his wound, I knew that he needed medical help.

For wound healing, treatment is necessary once it becomes infected. My dog had to have surgery to get the pus out of the wound, and he had to be on antibiotics for two weeks. I also had to flush out his wound with bleach water twice a day.

It took about two weeks for the wound to close up. The vet had said that it needed to heal from the inside out, so this was to be expected. In just over a month, it had fully healed, but the scar remained for another two months.


@ZipLine-- I had to learn about this for my biology test last week. The cells you mentioned are called "leukocytes." They're the ones that gather at the wound site to kill bacteria.

@burcidi-- Pus on the wound means it's infected. It happens when the bacteria entering through the wound is more than what the leukocytes can handle.

You need to keep your wounds clean to prevent more bacteria from entering. Also, never pick a scab. The job of the scab is to keep bacteria out. If you pull it off before it falls off on its own, the risk of infection increases.

And antibacterial ointments are a great idea. They kill the bacteria at the surface and prevent it from entering the wound. It gives the leukocytes an opportunity to clean up the infection and heal the wound.

This is also why my grandmother used to put honey on our cuts and scrapes as kids. Honey helps wound healing because it has antibacterial properties and prevents infections.


@burcidi-- I think it's basically taken care of by inflammation. Inflammation is the first response to a wound. It's what you call the redness and swelling you see with a wound.

In the case of a bug bite, there is probably foreign matter-- poison or bacteria that has entered the body. Inflammation is when the cells gather in that area to kill and get rid of the foreign matters so that it doesn't harm the body.

I'm pretty sure that inflammation happens before any other stage of wound healing. Inflammation is what causes the blood vessels to tighten (or relax), so it definitely takes place before that. And depending on the kind of wound, it usually continues for a couple of days.

When you bug bite is no longer red, swollen and itchy, it means that the wound healing is complete and the cells have moved on from that area.


What kind of wound healing takes place with bug bites?

I know that when I get a scrape or cut my finger, I first get a scab on it. And then after a few days, the scab falls off on its own and there is new skin underneath. The new skin is pink and looks thinner. But over time, it becomes thicker and fades to my normal skin color.

Sometimes a cut doesn't scab over well, instead it develops a yellowish pus and starts to hurt more. When that happens, my mom puts some antibacterial wound healing products on it which help it heal.

I don't understand what happens with bug bites though. All I see is that the area of the bite gets really red and itchy. I usually make it worse by scratching it and irritating it even more. In a day or two though, both the redness and the itching disappears. What does my body do in that short time period that heals the bite?

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