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How do you speed up incision healing?

How Wounds Heal

Most of us take wound healing for granted. If you get a small cut, you may clean and cover it with a bandage, and move on with your life. Yet under that bandage (or in the open air), the body orchestrates a complex cascade of events designed to heal wounds big and small.

The basic steps of wound healing are:

Doctor placing bandage on child's leg

  1. Stopping the bleeding (hemostasis). When your skin is cut, scraped, or punctured, you usually start to bleed. Within minutes or even seconds, blood cells start to clump together and clot, protecting the wound and preventing further blood loss. These clots, which turn into scabs as they dry, are created by a type of blood cell called a platelet. The clot also contains a protein called fibrin, which forms a net to hold the clot in place.
  2. Inflammation. Once the wound is closed with a clot, the blood vessels can open a bit to allow fresh nutrients and oxygen into the wound for healing. Blood-borne oxygen is essential for healing. The right balance of oxygen is also important — too much or too little and the wound won’t heal correctly. Another type of blood cell, a white blood cell called a macrophage, takes on the role of wound protector. This cell fights infection and oversees the repair process. You might see some clear fluid on or around the cut at this time. That is helping clean out the wound. Macrophages also produce chemical messengers, called growth factors, which help repair the wound.
  3. Growth and rebuilding. Blood cells, including oxygen-rich red blood cells, arrive to help build new tissue. Chemical signals instruct cells to create collagen, which serves as a type of scaffolding, and other tissues to begin the repair process. Occasionally, you see the result of this process as a scar that starts out red and eventually dulls.
  4. Strengthening. Over time, the new tissue gets stronger. You might notice stretching, itching, and even puckering of the wound as that happens. Within 3 months, the wound is almost as strong in its repair as it was before the trauma. The entire healing process might take a couple of years to complete.

Interrupted wound healing

The process seems simple enough, but wound healing is actually quite complicated and involves a long series of chemical signals. Certain factors can slow or prevent healing entirely.

One of the most dramatic factors is reduced or inadequate blood supply to the wound. The oxygen and nutrients that new blood carries to the wound are essential to successful healing. A wound that is not getting enough blood could take at least twice as long to heal, if it heals at all. By some estimates, as many as 6.5 million people in the United States suffer with wounds that are not healing well. These are called chronic wounds, which are more common in elderly people or people with diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or other vascular disease.

If you have a wound that is not healing in a reasonable time frame, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. If your injury seems to be getting worse or appears infected — that is, if it is more swollen, hot to the touch, painful, or oozing pus — see a healthcare provider right away.

Find a Doctor

  • Surgical Management of Complex Wounds
  • Burn Care
  • Burns
  • Burn Deformities
  • Burn scars

At Another Johns Hopkins Member Hospital:

  • Howard County General Hospital
  • Sibley Memorial Hospital
  • Suburban Hospital

Why Wound Care is a Critical Part of Recovery

To say wound care has been around a long time is an understatement. It can, in fact, be traced back to the earliest civilizations, and the ancient Greeks were among the first to stress the importance of wound healing.

Wound care has obviously come a long way since then, and it’s importance in the role of recovery cannot be stressed enough. Here’s a look at why would care plays such a vital role in the recovery process:

Wound Care: The Basics

There are two ways that wounds heal: regeneration or scar formation. During regeneration, tissue that has been damaged is replaced by tissue of the same type. This preserves the proper function of the area of the body that has been injured. In scar formation, the damaged tissue is replaced by fibrous scar tissue which doesn’t have the same properties as the original tissue.

The Importance of Wound Care in Recovery

Proper wound care prevents infection and other complications, and also helps speed up the healing process with less scarring.

Preventing Infection
By keeping continual attention on the wound dressings and bandages the risk for infection and other complications is greatly decreased. A health professional can make medically-important decisions through changing the dressings, noting the wound’s progress, as well as by making observations of bleeding, temperature, discharge and smell. In general, wounds should be cleaned once a day with disinfectant specific to wound care, clean water or saline, as well as applying clean dressings.

Speeds Healing
A potentially dangerous myth is that wounds heal faster if left uncovered, which simply isn’t true. Covering the wound throughout the healing process actually hastens the healing process. Moreover, properly maintained bandaging provides additional protection against infection.

Minimizes Scarring
Keeping the wound soft through the healing process helps to minimize scars while not allowing hard scabs to form. Antibiotic ointments – and other treatment options recommended by your physician – applied during the early stages of healing will keep the skin around the wound soft and pliable.

Once the wound has healed enough that there’s no risk of infection, antibiotic ointment can be replaced with vitamin E oil, aloe vera gel, or petroleum jelly. Massaging the area while working with the thicker scar tissue to keep it from becoming stiff is also important. Softer skin will heal with a less noticeable scar.

It’s important to note that the wound healing process is complex and fragile. Interruption or failure can lead to non-healing chronic wounds involving factors such as diabetes, arterial or venous disease, infection, and the metabolic deficiencies of old age.

How to Tell if a Wound is Healing or Infected

cartoon hand with bandage wrapped around index and middle finger

Scrape on knees, minor cuts, animal bites, surgical incisions—wounds come in many shapes and sizes. Essentially, wounds are anything that break the skin. As soon as the skin is wounded, the body springs into action and starts the healing process. But how do you tell if a wound is healing properly?

Please read on to learn some of the signs of healthy wound healing as well as an infected wound. We will also talk about how to prevent infections and when to see a healthcare professional.

What should a normal healing wound look like?

All wounds go through certain stages of healing, no matter how they occur. Here is a brief overview of the normal healing process.


This is the first stage in wound healing. It helps to stop bleeding. The body forms a clot to stop the leakage of blood. This is accomplished by narrowing the blood vessels around the wound to ease blood flow. The platelets in the blood stick together to form a clot or seal in the blood vessel walls. Tissues like collagen and thrombin make the blood thicker, and a thin layer or soft scab forms over the wound. The entire hemostasis stage occurs within a few minutes, and the wound stops bleeding.


This is the second stage of wound healing. The body gets to work cleaning and stabilizing the wound. White blood cells called neutrophils collect at the site of the wound. They are needed for fighting germs. This process occurs over a period of 24-48 hours. It is then followed by the arrival of macrophages, which are special immune system cells that clean the wound. The entire inflammatory stage of wound healing takes 4-6 days.


In the next stage, the body builds new skin by multiplying cells to repair the wound. The new tissue is called granulation tissue, and it is pink and uneven in appearance. New blood vessels form to supply oxygen and nutrients to the healing skin. The edges of the wound are pulled together. Layers of epithelial cells are added to cover the wound. This stage can take anywhere from 4 to 24 days.


This is the last of the wound healing stages. It is called the maturation or remodeling stage. The body strengthens the tissues beneath and makes the skin strong and flexible again. This is accomplished by removing unneeded healing cells from the affected area and cross-linking cells to make the tissues stronger. It can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 years.

What are the signs of good wound healing?

Here are some signs that the wound is healing well:

  • Scab formation after the wound bleeds
  • Swelling, redness, pain, warm skin, and an initial discharge of clear liquid for up to 5 days (these things promote healing and are the body’s way to prevent infection)
  • New tissue growth as the wound heals
  • Scar formation (this can be pink, uneven, or stretched, but slowly blends in with the surrounding skin, although you may always have a scar)

What are the signs of wound infection?

Here are some signs of wound infection for which you should seek medical attention:

  • Swelling, redness, or warmth after the first 5 days
  • Increasing pain or long-lasting pain
  • Discolored or foul-smelling pus oozing from the wound
  • Darkening of the skin at the wound edges
  • Fever
  • Stiffness or limited movement of the infected area

What causes slow wound healing or non-healing wounds?

Risk factors for slow wound healing include diabetes , vascular disease, tobacco consumption, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure , kidney disease , and obesity . These conditions can result in poor circulation, a reduced ability to fight infections, and increased inflammation. If you have one of these conditions, you need to keep a close eye on every wound to ensure it doesn’t become a chronic wound or develop a wound infection.

How to get a wound to heal faster?

You can speed up the wound healing process by keeping the wound clean. The best way to clean a minor wound is to wash it under cool running water with mild soap. Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can injure the tissues and delay wound healing. Using an antibiotic cream can help to fight invasions by bacteria and prevent wound infections.

It also helps to eat a healthy diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Always stay up-to-date on your tetanus shot to avoid infected wounds and other serious complications from wounds.

When to seek medical attention for a wound?

Most minor wounds heal within a few days with basic wound care at home. However, some wounds can be life-threatening. You should seek immediate medical attention for any wounds that do not stop bleeding. It is also important to receive treatment from a healthcare professional for:

  • Deep wounds or puncture wounds
  • Infected wounds (see signs of wound infection listed above)
  • Chronic wounds that have not healed for more than 4 weeks
  • Fever higher than 100.4 degrees
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