Injury Management: Surfing with Stitches

How to get stitched up and get back in the water as soon as possible?

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Stitching someone up in between sessions on a remote beach in Mexico.

Statistically, the most common injury while surfing is a cut in your face or on your head due to a collision with your own board. And statistics do not care if you are on a surf trip far far away from medical care or just around the corner of a hospital. So what are you going to do when your board (or somebody else’s for that matter) hits you and leaves a cut?

It all depends on what kind of person you are. Perfect is just good enough for you? Then, go to a plastic surgeon, pay thousands of bucks and keep the scar out of the sun for half a year. It is going to turn out pretty, for sure.

No plastic surgeon around, no abundance of cash and no way you are not surfing the next day? Here is the advice for surfers:

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I got myself an absolute classic: getting to close to your beloved board is not always good

First of all, you have to find somebody to stitch you up. Ask around, don’t be shy. You will find somebody with basic knowledge and equipment. Earlier is better than later (hours better than days) and you should not play around in the water before the wound is closed. Suturing is not that difficult, simple clean cuts are going to turn out fine even if the person stitching them together doesn’t do it every day.

Once the wound is sutured you should stay out of the water to avoid an infection. Should. The general rule is: no water as long as the stitches are in place. Well, being a surfer and all, there are ways around that rule. I tried it myself.

After suturing or stapling the cut the wound should be fully closed and there should be no flesh visible between the edges. To help the healing process there are three things you have to avoid: movement of the tissue around the scar, sun, and water (especially salt water).

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This cut on your elbow does not have to keep you out of the water..

So, how the heck will you be able to surf? Two words: liquid bandaid. First, you will have to clean the tissue around the wound from any old blood and let it dry. Aceton is good for that. Then, liquid bandaid is great to keep the wound from getting wet. Just spray it over the sutures before getting into the water. On top of that you can put a regular bandaid for sun protection and/or wear a hat. It is important to remove the bandaid right after the surf session. You do not want the wound to stay moist. The liquid bandaid can stay on, just spray some more on the wound every time before you enter the water.

However, remember, the wound will heal better if you do not surf. Reevaluate before every surf.

This advice applies to small clean cuts. Do not close puncture wounds and if you needed more than 5 to 6 stitches only go out when the waves are perfect. Liquid bandaid is especially good for cuts in hairy places such as the eyebrows or scalp as you can see on the pictures. If there’s no hair close to the wound you might be able to put a waterproof dressing on top but always remember to remove it after a while and to remove it immediately after the surf if water has gotten under it.

The scar on my eyebrow turned out pretty nice. I went surfing three times a day for a week just after I had sutured the wound.

Yes, these are tiny cuts. But treated in a wrong way they can be a pain. A post about another cut that kept me from surfing for 6 weeks will follow.

A few more things to remember:

Small lacerations are no reason to take antibiotics!

When cleaning the wound the most important part is rinsing it off with fresh water.

If you want the scar to be as invisible as possible the key is to protect it from the sun for months. Advice from a plastic surgeon: Put antibiotic cream on the wound for the first 10 days twice a day, this will make the scar as pretty (i.e. invisible) as possible.

Super glue: Yes I know, most surfers use it. Just remember: never squeeze it right in the wound, just on top, glueing healthy skin to healthy skin! If you do not have liquid bandaid, super glue does keep the water out of the wound really good too.

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