Debridement is the removal of unhealthy tissue from a wound to promote healing. It can be done by surgical, chemical, mechanical, or autolytic (using your body's own processes) removal of the tissue.
Surgical Debridement of Lower Leg Wound
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Debridement is used to clean dead and contaminated material from your wound to aid in healing. The procedure is most often done for the following reasons:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
The following may be done before your procedure:
Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure
If you will be getting general anesthesia, do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure
Anesthesia may be used for deep pressure ulcers or other wounds. Local anesthesia will numb the area. General anesthesia will allow you to sleep through the procedure.
The following 4 methods are often used in combination:
Surgical debridement is done using scalpels, forceps, scissors, and other instruments. It is used if your wound is large, has deep tissue damage, or if your wound is especially painful. It may also be done if debriding your wound is urgent. The skin surrounding the wound will be cleaned and disinfected. The wound will be probed with a metal instrument to determine its depth and locate any foreign matter. The doctor will cut away dead tissue. The wound will be washed out to remove any free tissue. In some cases, transplanted skin may be grafted into place. Sometimes, cutting away the entire contaminated wound may be the most effective treatment.
A debriding medication will be applied to your wound. The wound will be covered with a dressing. The enzymes in the medication will dissolve the dead tissue in the wound.
Mechanical debridement can involve a variety of methods to remove dead or infected tissue. It may include using a whirlpool bath, a syringe and catheter, or wet to dry dressings. Wet to dry dressing starts by applying a wet dressing to your wound. As this dressing dries, it absorbs wound material. The dressing is then remoistened and removed. Some of the tissue comes with it.
This form of debridement uses dressings that retain wound fluids that assist your body's natural abilities to clean the wound. This type of dressing is often used to treat pressure sores. This process takes more time than other methods. It will not be used for wounds that are infected or if quick treatment is needed. It is a good treatment if your body cannot tolerate more forceful treatments.
Samples of the removed tissue may be sent to a lab for examination.
The length of treatment depends on the type of debridement. Surgical debridement is the quickest method. Nonsurgical debridement may take 2-6 weeks or longer.
During a surgical debridement, general anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. When local anesthetic or sedative is given, some people report discomfort. Often, there will be soreness while recovering from the procedure. Pain medications may be given to help relieve pain.
Mechanical debridement and chemical debridement often cause pain. Pain medication can be given before changing the dressing to help manage pain.
Depending on the reason for the debridement, you may be able to go home on the same day. If you are already in the hospital, this procedure should not extend your stay.
It may take the wound many weeks to heal. A specific wound-care program will be suggested to speed your recovery.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Visiting Nurse Associations of America
Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society
Canadian Association of Wound Care
Golinko MS,Joffe R, Maggi J, et al. Operative debridement of diabetic foot ulcers. J Am Coll Surg. 2008;207(6):e1-e6.
Nigam Y, Bexfield A, Thomas S, Ratcliffe NA. Maggot therapy: the science and implication for CAM part I-history and bacterial resistance. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3(2):223-227.
Steed DL. Debridement. Am J Surg. 2004;187(5A):71S-74S.
Wong CH,Yam AK, Tan AB, Song C. Approach to debridement in necrotizing fasciitis. Am J Surg. 2008;196(3):e19-e24.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Donald Buck, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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