Stab wound

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For other uses, see Stab.
Stab wound
Beauchamp kills Sharp.jpg
A depiction of Jereboam O. Beauchamp stabbing Solomon P. Sharp.
Classification and external resources
Specialty Emergency medicine
ICD-10 X99
ICD-9-CM E966
eMedicine topic list

A stab wound is a specific form of penetrating trauma to the skin that results from a knife or a similar pointed object that is "deeper than it is wide".[1][2][3][4] While typically stab wounds are thought only to be caused only by knives, they can also occur from ice picks, pens, broken bottles, and even coat hangers. Most stabbings occur because of intentional violence or through self infliction.[5] The treatment is dependent on many different variables such as the anatomical location and the severity of the injury. Even though stab wounds are inflicted at a much greater rate than gun shot wounds, they account for less than 10% of all penetrating trauma deaths.


Stab wounds can cause various internal and external injuries. They are generally caused by low-velocity weapons, meaning the injuries inflicted on a person are typically confined to the path it took internally, instead of causing damage to surrounding tissue, which is common of gunshot wounds.[6] The abdomen is the most commonly injured area from a stab wound. Interventions that may be needed depending on severity of the injury include airway, intravenous access, and control of hemorrhage.[5][7] The length and size of the knife blade, as well as the trajectory it followed, may be important in planning management as it can be a predictor of what structures were damaged.[1][3] There are also special considerations to take into effect as given the nature of injuries, there is a higher likelihood that persons with these injuries might be under the influence of illicit substances which can make it harder to obtain a complete medical history.[8] Special precautions should also be taken to prevent further injury from a perpetrator to the victim in a hospital setting.[9] Similarly to treating shock, it is important to keep the systolic pressure above 90mmHg, maintain the person's core body temperature, and for prompt transport to a trauma center in severe cases.[10][11]

To determine if internal bleeding is present a focused assessment with sonography (FAST) or diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL) can be used. Other diagnostic tests such as a computed tomography scan or various contrast studies can be used to more definitively classify the injury in both severity and location.[12] Local wound exploration is also another technique that may be utilized to determine how far the object penetrated.[13] Observation can be used in place of surgery as it can substitute an unnecessary surgery, which makes it the preferred treatment of penetrating trauma secondary to a stab wound when hypovolemia or shock is not present.[14] Laboratory diagnostic studies such as a hematocrit, white blood cell count and chemical tests such as liver function tests can also help to determine the efficiency of care .[15]


Surgical intervention may be required but it depends on what organ systems are affected by the wound and the extent of the damage.[3] It is important for care providers to thoroughly check the wound site inasmuch as a laceration of an artery often results in delayed complications sometimes leading to death. In cases where there is no suspicion of bleeding or infection, there is no known benefit of surgery to correct any present injuries.[16] Typically a surgeon will track the path of the weapon to determine the anatomical structures that were damaged and repair any damage they deem necessary.[17] Surgical packing of the wounds is generally not the favored technique to control bleeding as it can less useful then fixing the directly effected organs.[18] In severe cases when homeostasis cannot be maintained the use of damage control surgery may be utilized.[19]


Hilt mark left from a knife

Stab wound are one of the most common forms of penetrating trauma globally, but account for a lower mortality compared to blunt injuries due to their more focused impact to a person.[16] Stabbings are a relatively common cause of homicide in Canada[20] and the USA.[21] Typically deaths caused by stabbings are due to organ failure or blood loss. They are the mechanism of approximately 2% of suicides.[22] Most stab wounds are caused by intentional violence, as the weapons used to inflict such wounds are readily available compared to guns.[23]

In Canada, homicides by stabbing and gunshot occur relatively equally (1,008 to 980 for the years 2005 to 2009).[20] In the United States guns are a more common method of homicide (9,484 verses 1,897 for stabbing or cutting in 2008).[24]

Stab wounds occur four times more than gunshot wounds in the United Kingdom, but the mortality rate associated with stabbing has ranged from 0-4% as 85% of injuries sustained from stab wounds only affect subcutaneous tissue.[7][9][25] Most assaults resulting in a stab wound occur to men and persons of ethnic minorities.[26]


Some of the first principles of wound care come from Hippocrates who promoted keeping wounds dry except for irrigation.[38] Guy de Chauliac would promote removal of foreign bodies, rejoining of severed tissues, maintenance of tissue continuity, preservation of organ substance, and prevention of complications.[38] The first successful operation on a person who was stabbed in the heart was performed in 1896 by Ludwig Rehn, in what is now considered the first case of heart surgery.[39] In the late 1800s it was hard to treat stab wounds because of poor transportation of victims to health facilities and the low ability for surgeons to effectively repair organs. However, the use of laparotomy, which has been developed a few years earlier, had provided better patient outcomes than had been seen before.[40] After its inception, the use of exploratory laparotomies was highly encouraged for "all deep stab wounds" in which surgeons were to stop active bleeding, repair damage, and remove "devitalized tissues".[41] Because lapapotomies were seen to benefit patients, they were use on most every person with an abdominal stab wound until the 1960s when doctors were encouraged to use them more selectivity in favor of observation.[42] During the Korean war a greater emphasis was put on the use of pressure dressings and tourniquets to initially control bleeding.[38]


  1. ^ a b Marx. 2014. p. 460. 
  2. ^ Taber, Clarence Wilbur; Venes, Donald (2009). Taber's cyclopedic medical dictionary. F a Davis Co. p. 2189. ISBN 0-8036-1559-0. 
  3. ^ a b c Mankin SL (September 1998). "Emergency! Stab wound". The American Journal of Nursing 98 (9): 49. doi:10.2307/3471869. PMID 9739749. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  4. ^ Abdullah F, Nuernberg A, Rabinovici R (January 2003). "Self-inflicted abdominal stab wounds". Injury 34 (1): 35–9. doi:10.1016/s0020-1383(02)00084-0. PMID 12531375. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  5. ^ a b Sugrue M, Balogh Z, Lynch J, Bardsley J, Sisson G, Weigelt J (August 2007). "Guidelines for the management of haemodynamically stable patients with stab wounds to the anterior abdomen". ANZ Journal of Surgery 77 (8): 614–20. doi:10.1111/j.1445-2197.2007.04173.x. PMID 17635271. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  6. ^ Christopher McLean, Jonathan Hull (June 2006). "Missile and explosive wounds". Surgery (Oxford) 22 (6): 194–7. doi:10.1383/surg.2006.24.6.194. 
  7. ^ a b Campbell, John Creighton (2000). Basic trauma life support for paramedics and other advanced providers. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Brady/Prentice Hall Health. ISBN 0-13-084584-1. 
  8. ^ Marx. 2014. p. 462. 
  9. ^ a b Bird J, Faulkner M (2009). "Emergency care and management of patients with stab wounds". Nurs Stand 23 (21): 51–7; quiz 58. doi:10.7748/ns2009. PMID 19248451. 
  10. ^ Marx. 2014. p. 292. 
  11. ^ Edgerly, Dennis (June 7, 2012). "Patient Suffers Multiple Stab Wounds: A 19-year-old male was stabbed multiple times in the chest". Journal of Emergency Medical Services. Elsevier Inc. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  12. ^ ATLS: Advanced Trauma Life Support for Doctors. American College of Surgeons. 2008. pp. 113–9. ISBN 978-1880696316. 
  13. ^ Marx. 2014. p. 469. 
  14. ^ PHTLS: Prehospital Trauma Life Support. Mosby/JEMS. 2010. ISBN 0-323-06502-3. 
  15. ^ Marx. 2014. p. 464. 
  16. ^ a b Oyo-Ita, Angela; Ugare, Udey G; Ikpeme, Ikpeme A (November 14, 2012). "Surgical versus non-surgical management of abdominal injury". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd). PMID 23152244. 
  17. ^ Kenneth D. Boffard (2007). Manual of definitive surgical trauma care. London: Hodder Arnold. ISBN 0-340-94764-0. 
  18. ^ Moore. 2012. p. 517. 
  19. ^ Garth Meckler; Cline, David; Cydulka, Rita K.; Thomas, Stephen R.; Dan Handel (2012). Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine Manual 7/E. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-178184-6. 
  20. ^ a b Homicides by method
  21. ^ "Murder Victims, by Weapons Used". InfoPlease. Sandbox Networks. Retrieved 2015-07-18. 
  22. ^ Riviello, edited by Ralph J. (2010). Manual of forensic emergency medicine : a guide for clinicians. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7637-4462-5. 
  23. ^ Eades, Chris (2007). Knife crime : review of evidence and policy. London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. ISBN 1906003068. 
  24. ^ Murder Victims, by Weapons Used
  25. ^ Hanoch J, Feigin E, Pikarsky A, Kugel C, Rivkind A (August 1996). "Stab wounds associated with terrorist activities in Israel". JAMA 276 (5): 388–90. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540050048022. PMID 8683817. 
  26. ^ El-Abdellati E, Messaoudi N, Van Hee R (2011). "Assault induced stab injuries: epidemiology and actual treatment strategy". Acta Chirurgica Belgica 111 (3): 146–54. PMID 21780521. 
  27. ^ UNODC Homicide Statistics 2013, used two tables: Homicide counts and rates, time series 2000-2012 & Percentage of homicides by mechanism, time series 2000-2012. Retrieved May-20-2014
  28. ^ Murder Victims by Weapons (FBI). Retrieved May-20-2014
  29. ^ U.S. Population 2012: Nearly 313 Million People. Retrieved May-20-2014
  30. ^ Chart 9: Victims of homicide by main method of killing, Scotland, 2012-13. Retrieved May-20-2014
  31. ^ Scotland’s Population at its Highest Ever. Retrieved May-20-2014
  32. ^ Police Statistics on Homicide Victims in New Zealand for the period 2007 - 2011. Retrieved May-20-2014
  33. ^ New Zealand in Profile: 2013. Retrieved May-20-2014
  34. ^ Knife crime: Recent data on carriage and use. Retrieved May-20-2014
  35. ^ Australia’s population. Retrieved May-20-2014
  36. ^ Knife crime statistics. Retrieved May-20-2014
  37. ^ Every person in England and Wales on a map. Retrieved May-20-2014
  38. ^ a b c Manring MM, Hawk A, Calhoun JH, Andersen RC (August 2009). "Treatment of war wounds: a historical review". Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 467 (8): 2168–91. doi:10.1007/s11999-009-0738-5. PMC 2706344. PMID 19219516. Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  39. ^ Sharpe, William (June 17, 1961). "Laceration of the Heart: Repair and Recovery: 1877". Journal of the American Medical Association. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.63040240024023. 
  40. ^ Oliver, J.C. (1899-01-09). "Gun Shot Wounds of the Abdomen with Report of Fifty Eight Cases". Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati: 354–75. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  41. ^ DeBrun, Harry (December 1926). "Essential immediate treatment of trauma". The American Journal of Surgery 1 (6): 376–385. doi:10.1016/S0002-9610(26)80009-1. 
  42. ^ Marx. 2014. p. 459. 


  • Feliciano, David V.; Mattox, Kenneth L.; Moore, Ernest J (2012). Trauma, Seventh Edition (Trauma (Moore)). McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-166351-9. 
  • Marx, John A. Marx (2014). Rosen's emergency medicine : concepts and clinical practice (8th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Saunders. pp. Chapter. ISBN 1455706051. 

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