Perineal tear

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Perineal tear
Synonym Latin: Laceratio perinei
The diagnosis and treatment of diseases of women (1907) (14597939340).jpg
Illustration of two perineal tears.
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 O70.0O70.3, O71.8

A perineal tear is a laceration of the skin and other soft tissue structures which, in women, separate the vagina from the anus. Perineal tears mainly occur in women as a result of vaginal childbirth, which strains the perineum. Tears vary widely in severity. The majority are superficial and require no treatment, but severe tears can cause significant bleeding, long-term pain or dysfunction. A perineal tear is distinct from an episiotomy, in which the perineum is intentionally incised to facilitate delivery.


In a woman, an anatomical area known as the perineum separates the opening of the vagina from that of the anus. Each opening is surrounded by a wall, and the anal wall is separated from the vaginal wall by a mass of soft tissue including:

A perineal tear may involve some or all of these structures, which normally aid in supporting the pelvic organs and maintaining faecal continence.[2]


Tears are classified into four categories:[3][4]

  • First-degree tear: laceration is limited to the fourchette and superficial perineal skin or vaginal mucosa
  • Second-degree tear: laceration extends beyond fourchette, perineal skin and vaginal mucosa to perineal muscles and fascia, but not the anal sphincter
  • Third-degree tear: fourchette, perineal skin, vaginal mucosa, muscles, and anal sphincter are torn; third-degree tears may be further subdivided into three subcategories:[5]
    • 3a: partial tear of the external anal sphincter involving less than 50% thickness
    • 3b: greater than 50% tear of the external anal sphincter
    • 3c: internal sphincter is torn
  • Fourth-degree tear: fourchette, perineal skin, vaginal mucosa, muscles, anal sphincter, and rectal mucosa are torn


In humans and some other primates, the head of the term fetus is so large in comparison to the size of the birth canal that delivery may result in some degree of trauma.[6] As the head passes through the pelvis, the soft tissues are stretched and compressed. The risk of severe tear is greatly increased if the fetal head is oriented occiput posterior (face forward), if the mother has not given birth before or if the fetus is large.[7]


Several techniques are used to reduce the risk of tearing, but with little evidence for efficacy. Antenatal digital perineal massage is often advocated, and may reduce the risk of trauma only in nulliparous women.[8] ‘Hands on’ techniques employed by midwives, in which the foetal head is guided through the vagina at a controlled rate have been widely advocated, but their efficacy is unclear.[9] Waterbirth and labouring in water are popular for several reasons, and it has been suggested that by softening the perineum they might reduce the rate of tearing. However, this effect has never been clearly demonstrated.[10]


A 2008 study found that over 85% of women having a vaginal birth sustain some form of perineal trauma, and 60-70% receive stitches.[11] A retrospective study of 8,603 vaginal deliveries in 1994 found a third degree tear had been clinically diagnosed in only 50 women (0.6%).[12] However, when the same authors used anal endosonography in a consecutive group of 202 deliveries, there was evidence of third degree tears in 35% of first-time mothers and 44% of mothers with previous children.[13] These numbers are confirmed by other researchers in 1999.[14]

A study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that in 2011, first- and second-degree perineal tear was the most common complicating condition for vaginal deliveries in the U.S. among women covered by either private insurance or Medicaid.[15]

Second-degree perineal laceration rates were higher for women covered by private insurance than for women covered by Medicaid.[16]


First and second degree tears rarely cause long-term problems. Among women who experience a third or fourth degree tear, 60-80% are asymptomatic after 12 months.[17] Faecal incontinence, faecal urgency, chronic perineal pain and dyspareunia occur in a minority of patients, but may be permanent.[18] The symptoms associated with perineal tear are not always due to the tear itself, since there are often other injuries, such as avulsion of pelvic floor muscles, that are not evident on examination.[19]

Over-zealous repair after childbirth, using a so-called "husband stitch" to increase vaginal tightness, can exacerbate pain during intercourse.[20][21]


  1. ^ Last, R. J. (1984). Anatomy Regional and Applied. London: Churchill Livingstone. p. 345. ISBN 0-443-02989-X. 
  2. ^ Finn, Martha; Bowyer, Lucy; Carr, Sandra; O'Connor, Vivienne; Vollenhoven, Beverley (2005). Women's Health: A Core Curriculum. Australia: Elsevier. ISBN 0-7295-3736-6. 
  3. ^ Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-07-12. 
  5. ^ MDConsult
  6. ^ Rosenberg, Karen; Trevathan, Wenda (2002). "Birth, obstetrics and human evolution". BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 109 (11): 1199–1206. doi:10.1046/j.1471-0528.2002.00010.x. ISSN 1470-0328. 
  7. ^ Eskandar, O; Shet, D (February 2009). "Risk factors for 3rd and 4th degree perineal tear". Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology : the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 29 (2): 119–22. doi:10.1080/01443610802665090. PMID 19274544. 
  8. ^ Seehusen, DA; Raleigh, M (1 March 2014). "Antenatal perineal massage to prevent birth trauma". American Family Physician. 89 (5): 335–6. PMID 24695503. 
  9. ^ Wang, H; Jayasekara, R; Warland, J (12 March 2015). "The effect of "hands on" techniques on obstetric perineal laceration: A structured review of the literature". Women and birth : journal of the Australian College of Midwives. 28: 194–8. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2015.02.006. PMID 25773668. 
  10. ^ Nutter, E.; Meyer, S.; Shaw-Battista, J.; Marowitz, A. (2014). "Waterbirth: an integrative analysis of peer-reviewed literature". Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health. 59 (3): 286–319. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12194. PMID 24850284. 
  11. ^ Kettle, C., & Tohill, S. (2008). Perineal care. Clinical evidence, 2008.[1]
  12. ^ Sultan AH, Kamm MA, Hudson CN (1994). "Bartram CI. Third degree obstetric anal sphincter tears: risk factors and outcome of primary repair". BMJ. 308: 887–91. doi:10.1136/bmj.308.6933.887. 
  13. ^ Sultan A, Kamm MA, Hudson CN, Thomas JM, Bartram CI (1993). "Anal sphincter disruption during vaginal delivery". N Engl J Med. 329: 1905–1911. doi:10.1056/NEJM199312233292601. PMID 8247054. 
  14. ^ Fines M, Donnelly V, Behan M, O'Connell PR, O'Herlihy C (1999). "Effect of second vaginal delivery on anorectal physiology and faecal continence: a prospective study". Lancet. 354: 983–986. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(98)11205-9. 
  15. ^ Moore JE, Witt WP, Elixhauser A (April 2014). "Complicating Conditions Associate With Childbirth, by Delivery Method and Payer, 2011". HCUP Statistical Brief #173. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 
  16. ^ Moore JE, Witt WP, Elixhauser A (April 2014). "Complicating Conditions Associate With Childbirth, by Delivery Method and Payer, 2011". HCUP Statistical Brief #173. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 
  17. ^ Toglia, Marc. "Repair of episiotomy and perineal lacerations associated with childbirth". UpToDate. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  18. ^ Fernando, RJ; Sultan, AH; Kettle, C; Radley, S; Jones, P; O'Brien, PM (June 2006). "Repair techniques for obstetric anal sphincter injuries: a randomized controlled trial". Obstetrics and gynecology. 107 (6): 1261–8. doi:10.1097/ PMID 16738150. 
  19. ^ Lammers, K; Prokop, M; Vierhout, ME; Kluivers, KB; Fütterer, JJ (August 2013). "A pictorial overview of pubovisceral muscle avulsions on pelvic floor magnetic resonance imaging". Insights into imaging. 4 (4): 431–41. doi:10.1007/s13244-013-0261-9. PMC 3731469Freely accessible. PMID 23756995. 
  20. ^ "The Husband Stitch". 28 July 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2017. 
  21. ^ Vinopal, Lauren (17 August 2017). "Are Husbands and Doctors Conspiring to Sew New Moms Up Too Tight?". Fatherly. Retrieved 15 October 2017.