Broken bone - rod care; Broken bone - nail care; Broken bone - screw care
Broken bones can be fixed in surgery with metal pins, screws, nails, rods, or plates. These metal pieces hold the bones in place while they heal. Sometimes, the metal pins need to stick out of your skin to hold the broken bone in place.
The metal and the skin around the pin must stay clean to prevent infection.
In this article, any metal piece that is sticking out of your skin after surgery is called a pin. The area where the pin comes out of your skin is called the pin site. This area includes the pin and the skin around it.
You must keep the pin site clean to prevent infection. If the site becomes infected, the pin may need to be removed. This could delay bone healing, and the infection could make you very sick.
Check your pin site every day for signs of infection, such as:
If you think you have an infection, call your surgeon right away.
There are different types of pin-cleaning solutions. The two most common solutions are:
Use the solution that your surgeon recommends.
Supplies you will need to clean your pin site include:
Clean your pin site twice a day. Do not put lotion or cream on the area unless your surgeon tells you it is OK.
Your surgeon may have special instructions for cleaning your pin site. But the basic steps are as follows:
For a few days after your surgery you may wrap your pin site in dry sterile gauze while it heals. After this time, leave the pin site open to air.
If you have an external fixator (a steel bar that may be used for fractures of long bones), clean it with gauze and cotton swabs dipped in your cleaning solution every day.
Most patients who have pins can take a shower 10 days after surgery. Ask your surgeon how soon you can shower.
Lethaby A, Temple J, Santy-Tomlinson J. Pin site care for preventing infections associated with external bone fixators and pins. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;12.
Nettina SM. Musculoskeletal health. Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2010:chap 32.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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