Does my cut need stitches?

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

A cut may need stitches (or other treatments) if:

  • the bleeding does not stop after 10 minutes of applying pressure
  • the cut is long or deep
  • something is embedded within the cut
  • the cut occurred as a result of an animal or human bite, or was punctured by any other object that may cause infection the cut is on the mouth, face, hand or genitals

If any of the above apply, then see your GP or visit a walk-in centre as soon as possible.

You should also see your GP if you think the cut is not healing properly, or may be showing signs of infection. Common signs of infection include:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • pain
  • pus coming from the wound

The cut may need to be cleaned or stitched, and you may be given antibiotics.

Treating minor cuts and grazes

Bleeding from small cuts and grazes can be controlled by applying pressure to the cut using a clean, non-fluffy pad (preferably a sterile dressing, if you have one).

You should also raise the injured body part above the level of the heart so the bleeding slows down and stops. If it's your hand or arm, raise it above your head; if it's a lower limb, lie down and raise it.

If you don't have a sterile dressing, use a hand, tea towel or t-shirt to slow down the bleeding.

Once you're sure the cut is clean and the bleeding has stopped, wrap a dressing around it and make sure it's secure. For more information about cleaning cuts and grazes.

The cut should heal by itself within a few days.

How do I apply butterfly stitches?

Butterfly stitches are narrow adhesive strips that help to close the edges of a small wound and encourage the skin to heal. They are sold in pharmacies as skin-closure strips or "Steri-Strips".

They should not be used on areas where the skin moves a lot, such as joints, or on oily, moist or hairy areas.

You can use the strips if the wound is shallow, clean and uninfected, and you're sure nothing is embedded in it.

Do not use them if the wound is on the face, or was the result of an animal or human bite. These types of wound should be checked by a GP or the staff at your local walk-in centre.

Find details of services in your local area or call NHS 111.

Make sure the skin around the wound is also clean and dry. It's not always necessary to use the full length of the strips – you can cut them to a more appropriate length. Leave about 3mm between each strip.

How to apply them

To apply skin-closure strips:

  • carefully line up the edges of the wound
  • push them together and, starting at the middle of the wound, apply the strips to hold the edges together
  • place half of the strip on one side of the wound, gently bring the other side of the wound towards it, and then pass the strip over
  • place strips alternately above and below the first strip – this helps to match up the edges and keeps the skin tension equal
  • to anchor the rows of strips in place, put two strips vertically across the rows – one on each side of the wound

A protective dressing is not usually necessary. The strips are waterproof, so you should be able to take a shower 24 hours after applying them, but try to keep the wound and strips as dry as possible.

If the wound does not stop bleeding once the strips have been applied, this is a sign that butterfly stitches are not suitable. You should go to a minor injuries unit because another method of treating the wound may be required.

If you do not have ready access to a minor injuries unit, walk-in centre or similar out-of-hours service, visit your nearest A&E department.

Instructions to remove the strips vary by type and location of the wound. Check the patient information leaflet that comes in the packet.

If the wound becomes swollen, red or more painful then it may have become infected. Seek advice from your GP surgery, or from staff at your local walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

Content supplied by NHS Choices