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Home > Services > Orthopedics > Orthopedic Conditions > Debridement of a Wound, Infection or Burn

Debridement of a Wound, Infection or Burn

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.

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Surgical Debridement of Lower Leg Wound

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What Does Debridement Do?

Debridement is used to clean dead and contaminated material from a wound to aid in healing. The procedure is most often done to:

  • Remove tissue contaminated by bacteria, foreign tissue, dead cells or crusting
  • Create a neat wound edge to decrease scarring
  • Aid in the healing of very severe burns or pressure sores
  • Get a sample of tissue for testing and diagnosis

The Debridement Procedure

Your doctor will:

  • Perform a physical exam
  • Take a measurement of the wound
  • Provide pain medicine before changing debridement dressings (for nonsurgical procedures)

The four types of debridement are often used in combination.

Surgical Debridement

Surgical debridement is done using scalpels, forceps, scissors and other instruments. This is the preferred method for large wounds that have deep tissue damage, or if your wound is especially painful.

Your doctor cleans and disinfects your skin surrounding the wound. After determining the depth of the wound, your doctor cuts away dead tissue and washes out the wound to remove any free tissue. In some cases, you may need transplanted skin grafted into place. 

Chemical Debridement

Your doctor applies a debriding medicine to your wound. The enzymes in the medicine dissolve any dead tissue in the wound. Your doctor then covers the wound with a dressing.

Mechanical Debridement

Mechanical debridement can involve a variety of methods to remove dead or infected tissue. It may include 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. When your doctor rewets and removes the dressing, some of the tissue comes with it.

Autolytic Debridement

This form of debridement uses dressings that retain wound fluids and assist your body's natural abilities to clean the wound. This type of dressing is often used to treat pressure sores. It will not be used for wounds that are infected or if you need quick treatment.

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.

After debridement, samples of the removed tissue may be sent to a lab for examination.

Post-procedure Care

It may take the wound many weeks to heal. Your doctor will suggest a specific wound-care program to speed your recovery at home.

Remember to:

  • Keep the wound and dressings clean and dry.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.
  • Take medicines as ordered. Do not stop medicines early, even if the wound starts to look better.

Symptoms of a Problem

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding or discharge at the wound site
  • Chalky white, blue or black appearance to tissue around wound
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given

Possible Complications

Your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Delayed healing
  • Removal of healthy tissue with mechanical debridement

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Infection
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Use of steroid or other immunosuppressive medicines
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor circulation
  • Immune disorders


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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