Debridement is the process of removing dead (necrotic) tissue or foreign material from and around a wound to expose healthy tissue.


An open wound or ulcer can not be properly evaluated until the dead tissue or foreign matter is removed. Wounds that contain necrotic and ischemic (low oxygen content) tissue take longer to close and heal. This is because necrotic tissue provides an ideal growth medium for bacteria, especially for Bacteroides spp. and Clostridium perfringens that causes the gas gangrene so feared in military medical practice. Though a wound may not necessarily be infected, the bacteria can cause inflammation and strain the body's ability to fight infection. Debridement is also used to treat pockets of pus called abscesses. Abscesses can develop into a general infection that may invade the bloodstream (sepsis) and lead to amputation and even death. Burned tissue or tissue exposed to corrosive substances tends to form a hard black crust, called an eschar, while deeper tissue remains moist and white, yellow and soft, or flimsy and inflamed. Eschars may also require debridement to promote healing.


The four major debridement techniques are surgical, mechanical, chemical, and autolytic.

Surgical debridement

Surgical debridement (also known as sharp debridement) uses a scalpel, scissors, or other instrument to cut necrotic tissue from a wound. It is the quickest and most efficient method of debridement. It is the preferred method if there is rapidly developing inflammation of the body's connective tissues (cellulitis) or a more generalized alized infection (sepsis) that has entered the bloodstream. The physician starts by flushing the area with a saline (salt water) solution, and then applies a topical anesthetic or antalgic gel to the edges of the wound to minimize pain. Using forceps to grip the dead tissue, the physician cuts it away bit by bit with a scalpel or scissors. Sometimes it is necessary to leave some dead tissue behind rather than disturb living tissue. The physician may repeat the process again at another session.

Mechanical debridement

In mechanical debridement, a saline-moistened dressing is allowed to dry overnight and adhere to the dead tissue. When the dressing is removed, the dead tissue is pulled away too. This process is one of the oldest methods of debridement. It can be very painful because the dressing can adhere to living as well as nonliving tissue. Because mechanical debridement cannot select between good and bad tissue, it is an unacceptable debridement method for clean wounds where a new layer of healing cells is already developing.

Chemical debridement

Chemical debridement makes use of certain enzymes and other compounds to dissolve necrotic tissue. It is more selective than mechanical debridement. In fact, the body makes its own enzyme, collagenase, to break down collagen, one of the major building blocks of skin. A pharmaceutical version of collagenase is available and is highly effective as a debridement agent. As with other debridement techniques, the area first is flushed with saline. Any crust of dead tissue is etched in a crosshatched pattern to allow the enzyme to penetrate. A topical antibiotic is also applied to prevent introducing infection into the bloodstream. A moist dressing is then placed over the wound.

Autolytic debridement

Autolytic debridement takes advantage of the body's own ability to dissolve dead tissue. The key to the technique is keeping the wound moist, which can be accomplished with a variety of dressings. These dressings help to trap wound fluid that contains growth factors, enzymes, and immune cells that promote wound healing. Autolytic debridement is more selective than any other debridement method, but it also takes the longest to work. It is inappropriate for wounds that have become infected.

Biological debridement

Maggot therapy is a form of biological debridement known since antiquity. The larvae of Lucilia sericata (greenbottle fly) are applied to the wound as these organisms can digest necrotic tissue and pathogenic bacteria. The method is rapid and selective, although patients are usually reluctant to submit to the procedure.


The physician or nurse will begin by assessing the need for debridement. The wound will be examined, frequently by inserting a gloved finger into the wound to estimate the depth of dead tissue and evaluate whether it lies close to other organs, bone, or important body features. The assessment addresses the following points:

Before surgical or mechanical debridement, the area may be flushed with a saline solution, and an antalgic cream or injection may be applied. If the antalgic cream is used, it is usually applied over the exposed area some 90 minutes before the procedure.


After surgical debridement, the wound is usually packed with a dry dressing for a day to control bleeding. Afterward, moist dressings are applied to promote wound healing. Moist dressings are also used after mechanical, chemical, and autolytic debridement. Many factors contribute to wound healing, which frequently can take considerable time. Debridement may need to be repeated.


It is possible that underlying tendons, blood vessels or other structures may be damaged during the examination of the wound and during surgical debridement. Surface bacteria may also be introduced deeper into the body, causing infection.

Normal results

Removal of dead tissue from pressure ulcers and other wounds speeds healing. Although these procedures cause some pain, they are generally well tolerated by patients and can be managed more aggressively. It is not uncommon to debride a wound again in a subsequent session.


Adjunctive therapies include electrotherapy and low laser irradiation. However, at present, insufficient research has been completed to recommend their general use.

Not all wounds need debridement. Sometimes it is better to leave a hardened crust of dead tissue (eschar), than to remove it and create an open wound, particularly if the crust is stable and the wound is not inflamed. Before performing debridement, the physician will take a medical history with attention to factors that might complicate healing, such as medications being taken and smoking. The physician will also note the cause of the wound and the ways it has been treated. Some ulcers and other wounds occur in places where blood flow is impaired, for example, the foot ulcers that can accompany diabetes mellitus. In such cases, the physician or nurse may decide not to debride the wound because blood flow may be insufficient for proper healing.



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Maklebust, JoAnn and Mary Y. Sieggreen. Pressure Ulcers: Guidelines for Prevention and Nursing Management. 2nd ed. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation, 1996.


Dervin, G. F., I. G. Stiell, K. Rody, and J. Grabowski. "Effect of Arthroscopic Debridement for Osteoarthritis of the Knee on Health-Related Quality of Life." The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (American) 85-A (January 2003): 10–19.

Friberg, T. R., M. Ohji, J. J. Scherer, and Y. Tano. "Frequency of Epithelial Debridement During Diabetic Vitrectomy." American Journal of Ophthalmology 135 (April 2003): 553–554.

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Terzi, C., A. Bacakoglu, T. Unek, and M. H. Ozkan. "Chemical Necrotizing Fasciitis Due to Household Insecticide Injection: Is Immediate Radical Surgical Debridement Necessary?" Human & Experimental Toxicology 21 (December 2002): 687–690.

Wolff, H., and C. Hansson. "Larval Therapy—an Effective Method of Ulcer Debridement." Clinical and Experimental Dermatology 28 (March 2003): 134–137.


American Academy of Wound Management. 1255 23rd St., NW, Washington, DC 20037. (202) 521-0368. .

Wound Care Institute. 1100 N.E. 163rd Street, Suite #101, North Miami Beach, FL 33162. (305) 919-9192. .


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Richard H. Camer Monique Laberge, Ph.D.


Debridement is performed by physicians such as plastic surgeons, dermatologists or surgeons, depending on the condition requiring the procedure. General physicians and surgeons are all trained in debridement techniques and they usually perform debridement procedures. Nurses specializing in wound care are prepared to perform conservative sharp wound debridement once they have satisfactorily completed didactic and clinical instruction in the sharp debridement procedure from an accredited agency, wound management specialty course, or an approved course in debridement.

Surgical debridement is usually performed on an outpatient basis or at the bedside. If the target tissue is deep or close to another organ, however, or if the patient is experiencing extreme pain, the procedure may be done in an operating room .


Also read article about Debridement from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Hello Dear

The spinal instrumentation of my mother was done in June 2005. After that in the last 10 months she face too many problems like septicemia, abscess (2 times) then finally the consultant adviced me to reopen the area and debride the wound. After the debridement the wound should remained open from last 20 days while the debridement is also done on regular basis and also the implants are removed. Culture sensitivity shows Pseudomonas. Please tell me how much time it take.
Omona Kizito
The article is very good, straight to the point and fairly elaborate. Biological debridement was new for me. The article has helped me a lot in doing my assignment. Thanks, Omona Kizito ( MBChB-5 ), Gulu university, Uganda.
Benjamin Gonzales
are there risk factors in wound debridement such as nerve damage?

thank you,

Benjamim Jayson C. Gonzales V
Benjamin Gonzales
can surgical debridement cause nerve damage?

Thank You,

Benjamin Jayson C. Gonzales V
my dad has a type 2 diabetes mellitus, hes now on insulin, because oha meds cannot keep his blood glucose in normal range... my dad had undergone 3 major operation, 2 debridement on his right foot, but it didn't help at all... so we end up having it amputated... now, my dad has a wound on his left foot, it started from a calluses, but it opened up and gets bigger and bigger, and his Doctor from UST, Dr. Sison set him up for another debridement... its been 4 days post-op but my dads wound seems to be unhealthy, as i assessed it, it has black discoloration on d edge of d wound, i dont really know if it\'s hematoma from pressure bandaging or from the surgical debridement or worst its a necrotic tissue... =( pls help us, we cannot afford to loose his another foot! pls help us.. pls...
Has anyone heard of Hydrofera Blue? I am being treated with this to get rid of slough which seems to reappear after debridement. My wound is on top of my foot, and I am not diabetic. This wound is an incision wound
My mum has to undergo surgery to remove the bad tissue 2 nd time after the hip replacement . wondering if this is common
I had a Total Knee Replacement 9 months ago. My doctor is wanting to do a Arthroscopy and do a debridement to my inflamed knee. It swells and I am in constant pain with the replacement. I was told I have a Moderate size effusion on the knee. Has anyone gone through this after a Total Knee Replacement? If so, how long was the healing process?
Hi there I am going through almost the same thing with my husband where he started with a small blister on his second two on his right foot and then became necrotic, they had to amputate, now because of that the gangrene spread all through the bone and the bottom of the foot and the heel..
the foot MD had to debride the bone amputate the 3rd toe..
Tara Jackson
I started with ulcer size of nickel and now almost tennis ball. Had test done on my veins. Had venous ablilation surgery. Each time cclinic debrides my wound it got bigger. Now they said it maybe arterial ulcer an treatment may made it bigger. Does this mistake happen an please say it can be fix. Im living a nightmare right now
Can you please tell me is a burning sensation a good or bad sign. I have ulcers on both my hips that started as pressure areas, but have now gotten quite bad. I've had Debridement twice, they aren't healing very well due to me being a smoker. I had my last surgery about 6 weeks ago. I have daily dressings done at home by our district nurse. I have just started in the last 2 days get a burning sensation around the ulcers, is this a good or bad sign. It's not from my dressings as I've been having the same dressing for many months. I look forward to your reply, I live in New Zealand.
I had a foot corn surgery, just after cutting the stitches it became infected, hence the doctor surgically removed the dead cells. But as mentioned in your post "Not all wounds need debridement, and as it is in the foot, is it the good thing what he did? Does it heal properly, how long before i can walk easily?
My mother has been affected by tissue eating virus. This is on her left foot. We rushed to hospital and doctor says they need to remove the affected tissue.
The problem of removing affected tissue is, she is having diabetes and 5 months back she got paralysis on the left side of the body..
Now removing dead tissue is advisable or not.. how the wound gets healing...
Pls suggest me...and help us
Thanks in advance
Sivakumar K
Hai, CLM
Thanks for your info.
Please give me an idea about how the wound gets cured after removing dead tissues..We are thinking about age [62] factor..and diabetics
My grandpa has bedsores of grade4 , muscles are exposed and yellowish tissue is visible , should we debrid yellowish tissue?
Some time ago I had a sebaceous cyst drained in my lower back. Afterwards the wound left a pocket under my skin. The aftercare treatment was to pack the wound (debridement ) through the punch hole that was used to drain the cyst. After having the debridement for a couple of weeks the wound was healing well. However I believe the punch hole healed before the cavity under my skin. Now the area where the cyst was is healed, but the area under the skin itches and irritates me daily. What should I do?
it hurts so very bad. the physical therapists don't believe in any thing to deaden the area. i don't know how much more i can stand.
Does Retinoblastoma can be treated by damaging any tissue and the dead cells in the body can be removed . Is it possible ? Kindly reply me
R Wolfe
I've been getting debridement done since 11-12 starting with my shin & a year later 12-13 my left ankle, all while had left vein removed from hip-foot in 12. In 16 I had vein removed from knee-foot on right to heal that wound. Was in wound care 11-13, & returned at the beginning of 16 & still not healed. Was told last August I'd be able to put feet in water, now I'm being told I have to wait another 2yrs?

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