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Facial Soft Tissue Injuries Treatment & Management

  • Author: Kyle D Parish, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 27, 2015

Medical Issues/Complications

Facial soft-tissue injury complications include, but are not limited to, infection, hematoma, poor cosmesis, flap/wound edge necrosis, nasal septum necrosis, retained foreign body, cauliflower ear, and loss of function.



As with the physical examination, a systematic approach to facial laceration repair ensures the best chance at an optimum outcome.[20] A summary of one methodological approach follows.

Wound assessment

Familiarity with the pertinent anatomic aspects of the face is important. Clear anatomic boundaries are present that must be respected and carefully realigned to avoid obvious deformity. Cosmetic results are better when minimal tension is placed on the wound edges at the time of repair. Therefore, wounds with the long axis parallel to the natural skin tension lines have much better cosmetic outcomes. The degree of tension on the wound edges can be estimated by measuring the distance the wound edges retract away from the center of the lesion. Marked retraction (>5 mm) indicates strong skin tension. With such wounds, placement of dermal sutures in a 2-layer closure should be considered.


Anesthesia can be provided by topical, local, or regional block. An advantage of using regional block in the face is that the wound edges are not distorted from the local anesthetic. The areas for regional block injection are shown in the image below. Amide anesthetics (eg, lidocaine, bupivacaine, mepivacaine) are used most commonly. Allergic reactions are uncommon. When using anesthetics containing epinephrine, care should be used to avoid areas with end arteries (ie, the nose).

Distribution of nerves for regional anesthesia of Distribution of nerves for regional anesthesia of the face.

The regional block and the area of anesthesia are as follows:

  • Supraorbital and supratrochlear blocks – Forehead, anterior one third of the scalp
  • Infraorbital block – Lower lid, upper lip, and lateral aspect of the nose
  • Mental nerve block – Lower lip and chin

Wound cleaning and irrigation

All areas should be thoroughly explored, copiously irrigated, cleaned, and debrided of devitalized tissue before closure. Irrigation lessens the risk of infection. Interestingly, regardless of irrigation, noncontaminated wounds repaired within 6 hours of injury rarely develop infection, and the overall rate of infection of repaired scalp and facial wounds is 1%. After irrigation, gentle cleansing of the wound should be performed with a dilute povidone-iodine solution (Betadine; Purdue Pharma, LP, Stamford, Conn) or iodine solution. The wound edge (1-2 mm) can be safely removed to rid the area of devitalized tissue. Attempts should be made to make the wound edges perpendicular with the skin surface because this results in a smoother, less noticeable scar (see image below, bottom).

Top: Improper repair of an angled laceration. Bot Top: Improper repair of an angled laceration. Bottom: Proper repair of an angled laceration, with creation of perpendicular edges for a flush repair.


Deep wounds should be repaired in layers. Unrepaired muscle layers are much more likely to produce noticeable scarring.[21] When performing a 2-layer closure, the deep layers should be closed with absorbable suture. Importantly, use the minimum amount of subcutaneous suture necessary because the risk of infection is related to the amount of suture used. Nonabsorbable monofilament suture should be used for skin closure. Monofilament suture is associated with a lower risk of infection compared with a polyfilament suture.

The suture technique should be selected based on the site of the wound and the amount of tension on the wound edges. A simple interrupted technique can be used in areas of low tension or in wounds in which the tension has been reduced with a layer of subcutaneous sutures. This technique is also useful for realigning wounds with irregular wound edges. Areas of high tension are best closed using a vertical mattress technique. All facial wounds should be repaired in less then 24 hours to decrease the risk of infection and achieve the best cosmetic result. If a delay in closure is necessary, wounds should be covered with saline-moistened gauze until the repair can be made.

Dermal adhesives, such as 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, have been shown to be equivalent to sutures for the repair of simple, clean wounds in areas of low tension.[22] The adhesives are applied topically to the wound edges. Advantages of adhesives include shorter repair time, fewer supplies, less pain during repair, and elimination of the need to remove sutures or staples at a follow-up visit. Note: Dermal adhesives should not be used on the lips or mucous membranes. Avoid use in patients with poor circulation or who have a propensity to form keloids.

Staples are good alternatives to sutures in the repair of scalp lesions. Stapling involves shorter repair time and less cost compared with suture repairs. Rates of infection and inflammatory response are not higher than those associated with suture repair. During the staple application, an assistant helps evert and approximate the wound edges, while the primary operator uses the stapler. Disadvantages include the inability to accurately align the wound edges in irregular wounds and an increased likelihood of visible scarring, thus limiting the use of stapling to the scalp.


The athlete should be given instructions for proper wound care, including the normal healing process and signs that might indicate the presence of complications. Anticipate any complication (eg, infection, swelling, bleeding, dehiscence) and give precise instructions for early return. The following is a list of laceration sites and recommendations on suture size and typical time to removal:

  • Scalp – 4-0 suture or staple, with removal in 7-14 days
  • Forehead – 5-0/6-0 sutures, with removal in 5 days
  • Eyebrow – 5-0/6-0 sutures, with removal in 3-5 days
  • Face – 6-0 suture, with removal in 5 days
  • Eyelid – 6-0/7-0 sutures, with removal in 3 days
  • Nose – 5-0 sutures, with removal in 3-5 days
  • Ears – 6-0 sutures, with removal in 10-14 days
  • Lips – 6-0 sutures, with removal in 3-5 days

Septal Hematoma

A septal hematoma is a blood-filled cavity between the cartilage and the supporting perichondrium. If unrecognized or untreated, the septal cartilage is subjected to continuous pressure. The pressure exerted by the hematoma eventually results in necrosis of the underlying cartilaginous support. The result is a saddle deformity of the septum that requires surgical repair. Occasionally, the hematoma becomes infected and a similar process of necrosis ensues.

Septal hematoma is managed by decompression, whether it is from needle aspiration with a large-gauge (≥ 18-gauge) needle or by incision and drainage using a no. 11 scalpel. Following decompression, bilateral nasal packing should be placed to avoid reaccumulation of fluid. The use of prophylactic antibiotics in patients with a septal hematoma is controversial. Referral to otolaryngologist is warranted for close follow-up.


Hematoma of the External Ear (Cauliflower Ear)

Similar to the septal hematoma, hematoma can develop at the level of the perichondrium following trauma to the auricle. Without timely treatment, the hematoma begins to fibrose over several weeks. Within 2-3 months, a fibrotic mass with new cartilage formation develops. Treatment is less difficult and more successful when completed immediately after the injury.

Aspiration should be performed using a large-gauge (≥ 18-gauge) needle. Following aspiration, an external compression dressing should be placed to avoid reaccumulation of fluid. Silicone ear splints can be molded to the front and back of the earlobe and are held in place using a head wrap, sutures, or both. When splints are not available, compression can be achieved by suturing a button or piece of nasal packing to the front and back of the auricle. Compressive dressing should be worn for 3-5 days.



Severe injuries to the structures of the face often require consultation with a specialist. Evaluation by an ophthalmologist is needed for any penetrating globe injuries, enucleation, eyelid lacerations involving the lid margins or lacrimal apparatus, and injury that compromises visual acuity. In the event of a major deforming injury (eg, ear or nose avulsion) or when epistaxis cannot be controlled, consultation with an otolaryngologist is warranted. For any suspected or confirmed CSF leak, a neurosurgeon should be consulted. A plastic surgeon should evaluate any complex and potentially cosmetically disfiguring lacerations that may or may not include concomitant nerve injury.


Other Treatment


Contusions are the most common facial soft-tissue injury seen by a sports medicine team. They are usually the result of blunt trauma to the face. Ice should be applied for 10-20 minutes to minimize the immediate inflammatory response. This treatment should continue for the next 48-72 hours. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are good for symptom relief. Complications are uncommon.


Abrasions are partial-thickness disruptions of the epidermis as a result of sudden, forcible friction. These wounds should be gently cleansed of all debris. Failure to remove all debris can lead to "tattooing" of the skin and a poor cosmetic result. Local or regional anesthetic may be required to keep the patient comfortable and achieve adequate cleaning. Lubrication of the wound using an antibiotic ointment and covering with a sterile bandage may encourage healing.

Corneal abrasion

Corneal abrasions result from loss of the surface epithelium. Disruption near the central visual axis interferes with visual acuity. Such abrasions should be treated with a course of ophthalmic topical antibiotics. Topical analgesics may be used initially, but avoid prescribing them to the athlete for home use because this may delay reepithelialization and suppress the normal blink reflex. Note: Emergent consultation with an ophthalmologist is warranted for suspected retained intraocular foreign bodies. Urgent consultation is needed for suspected corneal ulcerations (microbial keratitis). These injuries require close follow-up, and referral to an ophthalmologist should also be made for any athlete with continued pain after 48 hours or inadequate healing by 72 hours.


Epistaxis typically does not require invasive treatment. Most often, bleeding can be controlled by maintaining continuous pressure for 10 minutes. This is achieved by asking the athlete to grasp and pinch his or her nose. While this task is performed, have the athlete tilt the head forward to avoid bleeding into the pharynx, which can lead to aspiration. Pressure should be maintained for at least 5 minutes and up to 20 minutes. If this is unsuccessful, a second attempt should be made.

Packing the affected nostril with gauze soaked in topical decongestant may be necessary to achieve hemostasis. If the bleeding site is clearly observed, chemical cautery can be attempted using silver nitrate directly at the site. If bleeding is not controlled despite these measures, the nasal cavity should be packed from posterior to anterior with ribbon gauze impregnated with petroleum jelly. Nasal tampons may also be helpful. For particularly resistant cases, referral to an otolaryngologist may be required.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Kyle D Parish, MD Private Practice, Family Medicine and Sports Medicine

Kyle D Parish, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Valerie E Cothran, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Assistant Team Physician, University of Maryland

Valerie E Cothran, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Russell D White, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Department of Community and Family Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Truman Medical Center-Lakewood

Russell D White, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Sports Medicine, American Diabetes Association, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Craig C Young, MD Professor, Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Community and Family Medicine, Medical Director of Sports Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin

Craig C Young, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Gerard A Malanga, MD Founder and Partner, New Jersey Sports Medicine, LLC and New Jersey Regenerative Institute; Director of Research, Atlantic Health; Clinical Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School; Fellow, American College of Sports Medicine

Gerard A Malanga, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, North American Spine Society, International Spine Intervention Society, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American College of Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Cephalon for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Endo for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Genzyme for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Prostakan for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Pfizer for speaking and teaching.

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Location of the parotid gland and duct system.
Distribution of nerves for regional anesthesia of the face.
Steps to repair lip laceration. A 3-layered approach is needed, as depicted.
Top: Improper repair of an angled laceration. Bottom: Proper repair of an angled laceration, with creation of perpendicular edges for a flush repair.
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