When Does a Cut Need Stitches?

Cuts & Wounds

Aug 2, 2023


Cuts, wounds, and lacerations are all common and sometimes unavoidable injuries, but when does a cut need stitches? How do you know when a wound requires medical attention?

Fortunately, the vast majority of wounds can heal without any medical intervention. However, some cuts and scrapes will need stitches and a trip to the ER to heal properly. Here is some information that will help you understand how to know if you need stitches.

How to know if you need stitches

How bad does a cut have to be to get a stitch or stitches? In some cases, stitches or other forms of skin adhesions are necessary for the wound to heal correctly. 

In order to determine if a cut needs stitches, you must look at the cut’s appearance and recall how the injury occurred. This can give you insight into the severity. Here are two signs that may indicate you need to head to the ER to get stitches for your cut.

#1. The wound’s appearance and location 

  • The cut is more than a ½ inch long
  • The cut is bleeding excessively and not slowing even after 10 minutes of firm pressure
    • Do I need stitches if it stops bleeding? If the edges of the wound are smooth and are able to stay together with normal amounts of movement, stitches may not be necessary for the healing process.
  • The cut exposes the underlayers of the skin (the dermis or subcutaneous fatty tissue)
  • The cut is so wide that you can’t push the edges together with gentle pressure
  • The cut is located on or across one of your joints
  • The cut is on or near the face or another sensitive area such as the genitals 

#2. How the wound occurred 

  • An animal bite caused the cut
  • A foreign object or high-pressure impact caused the wound
  • A dirty or rusty object caused the wound

Some people, unfortunately, only seek medical help if their cut won’t stop bleeding after an hour or for a significant time. If the bleeding doesn’t stop between 10-15 minutes, head to the emergency room for help. Cuts that need stitches will often look serious, so even if you’re not sure whether to head to an emergency room, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  

Can a deep cut heal without stitches?

Deep cuts where you can visibly see fatty tissue, muscle, or bone cannot heal properly without stitches. We understand that the idea of getting stitches can make some people feel incredibly uncomfortable, but attempting to let a deep wound heal without stitches or another adhesion method can be dangerous. 

What happens if a wound is not stitched?

If you ignore the fact that your wound needs stitches and decide not to seek medical help, you are putting your health at risk. Cuts that need stitches need to be addressed and sewn up as soon as possible to avoid infection, visible scarring, and a lengthy healing process. 


Open wounds are at a higher risk of contracting infections and that risk only increases the longer the wound is open. If you are wounded and have deducted based on our list above that this cut does need stitches, it would be in your best interest to get those stitches done no later than eight hours after the injury occurs. Anything past that can actually increase your risk of infection. In the case that the wound is very large, dirty, or is in a sensitive area, that window narrows to six hours.

It is important to note that after the eight-hour window passes, stitching the wound could increase your risk of getting a bacterial infection since the stitches could trap any bacteria that the open wound was exposed to in that timeframe. When it comes to stitches, it really is now or never, so act promptly. 


As a fact, all wound healing will result in some scarring, no matter how minor. It’s just how the body works. However, a cut that has to heal without stitches will leave behind more prominent, and in some cases more permanent, scarring. Depending on how severe the wound is, the scar can be larger, more severe, and more noticeable. 

Healing process

With stitches, the average healing time frame is about 1-2 weeks depending on where the wound is on the body. If a cut is left to heal on its own without the aid of stitches, that time frame increases to 3 or more weeks. It doesn’t seem like a huge jump, but imagine waiting almost a whole month for a wound to heal! And, there’s no guarantee that the wound will heal properly without stitches, meaning you should expect further complications that could add time to your recovery. 

How to handle your wound before going to the ER

Before heading off to the ER, it’s important to know how to treat cuts by handling the wound carefully. Not only do you want to prevent the cut from becoming even worse, but you also want to avoid infections. Here are some tips that will help you handle the wound properly before going to the ER.

  • Leave any foreign objects embedded in the wound alone. The foreign object may have struck an artery and is now blocking major bleeding. If you remove the object, you may start to bleed excessively.
  • Clean the wound if you can. In order to prevent infection, use soap and water on the wound as soon as possible. If the wound is contaminated, you may still need a tetanus shot. Learn more about the time frame for tetanus shot after injury.
  • Avoid food and drink in case sedation medication is necessary. This is especially essential for young children who require stitches.

Once you get to the emergency room, preferably at a Complete Care facility, the doctor will do a thorough examination of your wound and decide the best course of action. If that plan of action requires stitches, they will prepare you for that process as well as perform any other steps to take care of the wound such as removing a foreign object. 

After they’re done, they will provide you with information on how to take care of stitches, suggest a follow-up visit, and lay out your recovery plan. You’ll be in and out in no time. 

Get quality emergency wound care fast with Complete Care

Now that you know the answer to the question of when does a cut need stitches, we hope that you are better prepared to make that judgment call if an injury occurs. If your wound won’t stop bleeding, is large and won’t close, or has a foreign object embedded in the wound, head to a Complete Care emergency room for treatment. Our medical staff will provide you with hospital-grade emergency wound care with lower wait times.

We have multiple ER locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs that are open 24/7 and ready to help you and your family. 

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