This factsheet is for people who are having wound debridement, or who would like information about it.

Wound debridement is the removal of dead or damaged tissue from a wound. It can be done using several different techniques including surgery, larval therapy or chemical treatments.

You will meet the surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

  • About wound debridement
  • Preparing for a wound debridement
  • What happens during wound debridement
  • About the procedure
  • What to expect afterwards
  • Recovering from wound debridement
  • What are the risks?

About wound debridement

Normally, your body’s natural healing processes help wounds to repair themselves. Sometimes, however, the healing process is interrupted and the tissue in and around the wound dies. When this happens, it’s necessary to remove the dead and damaged tissue. This is called wound debridement.

Wound debridement happens naturally (this is called autolytic debridement) but it takes time. Studies have shown that if the process of debridement is speeded up, the wound heals more quickly.

Wounds that often need debridement include surgical wounds that have become infected or open up after surgery, and chronic wounds such as bed sores and leg ulcers. The term chronic refers to how long you’ve had your wound for, not how serious it is.

Preparing for a wound debridement

Our surgeon will explain how to prepare for your wound debridement.

Wound debridement may be done under a local, regional or general anaesthetic. Regional and local anaesthesia completely blocks pain from the wound area and you will stay awake during the procedure.

If you have general anaesthesia, this means you will be asleep during the procedure. You will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand. You may be allowed to drink clear fluids until two hours before the anaesthetic; however it’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice.

Our surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.

What happens during wound debridement

There are a range of different methods available for wound debridement. The most commonly used methods of debridement are listed below. Our surgeon will recommend the one that is most suitable for you.

  • Sharp debridement. The dead tissue is cut away using a scalpel, scissors and forceps. Sharp debridement is only suitable for surface wounds, and it doesn’t result in total debridement so often requires repeat treatment.
  • Surgical debridement. The dead tissue is cut away using a scalpel and scissors along with some healthy tissue by a surgeon. Surgical debridement is a very quick and thorough method of debridement.

About the procedure

You will be given a local or regional anaesthetic before your wound is debrided. This completely blocks pain from the area and you will stay awake during the procedure. If you need extensive debridement to a wound, you may be given general anaesthetic. This means you will be asleep during the procedure.

The type of wound debridement used will depend on your wound and the nurse or healthcare professional treating you. For sharp and surgical debridement the dead and damaged tissue will be cut away.

Once your wound has been debrided, it may be washed out with a syringe using salt water or cooled boiled water. Your wound will then be covered with a dressing.

What to expect afterwards

If you had a general anaesthetic, you may need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. After a local or regional anaesthetic it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into the treated area. Take special care not to bump or knock the area.

You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off.

You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready.

If you had a general anaesthetic, you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours after your wound debridement. General anaesthesia temporarily affects your co-ordination and reasoning skills, so you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards. If you’re in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer so that you’re aware of their recommendations, and always follow your surgeon’s advice.

Your nurse will give you advice about caring for your healing wound before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

Recovering from wound debridement

The length of time your wound takes to heal will vary. It’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice and look out for signs of infection. If your wound becomes infected, it may:

  • become more painful
  • look red, inflamed or swollen
  • leak or weep liquid, pus or blood
  • smell unpleasant

You should contact us for advice if you think you have an infection.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with wound debridement. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask our surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.


Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure, for example feeling sick as a result of the general anaesthetic.

You may feel some discomfort in the wound area after debridement, but this is usually only temporary.

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