Atlas of Primary Care Procedures, 1st Edition



Tangential Laceration Repair

Some soft tissue injuries are caused by tangential forces that produce oblique, nonvertical, or beveled wound edges. If these beveled edges are sutured in standard fashion, an unsightly ledge of tissue often results. Uneven edges cast a shadow on vertical surfaces, and the shadow magnifies the appearance of the scar. Proper management of tangential lacerations, especially on cosmetically important areas such as the face, is essential for optimal results.

Angled or beveled wounds have a broad edge (base side) and a shallow edge. The shallow edge may heal with minimal tissue loss if the wound angle is near vertical. The distal portion (i.e., nearest the center of the wound) of the shallow edge often necroses with more pronounced wound edge angulation because of inadequate blood supply to the epidermis and upper dermis. If the shallow edge is so thin as to appear transparent at the time of injury, subsequent necrosis is almost guaranteed. A markedly shallow edge contracts and rolls inward if taped or sutured without modification.

Tangential lacerations on the hand are commonly produced by glass fragments resulting from a glass breaking while being washed in the sink. Tangential lacerations on the head and face frequently result from glancing blows or collisions. Elderly individuals often experience tangential skin wounds (i.e., skin tears) on the extremities from even minimal contact. Skin tears in the elderly represent a special management situation; because suturing skin tears on the extremities does not appear to improve outcomes, taping is recommended.

A simple repair technique for tangential wounds involves taking a large, deep bite from the broad edge and a small bite from the shallow edge. Historically, tangential lacerations have been treated by transforming the beveled edges to vertical edges. Débridement of the wound edges is tedious and time consuming, and extensive removal of tissue on the face should be approached with caution. Despite these negative factors, the effort to transform wound edges can provide gratifying cosmetic and functional results.



  • Wounds with beveled (nonvertical) edges


  • Skin tears in elderly individuals




An angulated skin wound can reduce blood supply to the distal portion of the shallow wound edge, resulting in necrosis of the shallow edge (Figure 1A). If a tangential wound is approximated with a simple suture (i.e., equal bites through each wound edge) (Figure 1B), the shallow edge tends to roll under. The greater distance of a tangential wound through skin compared with a vertical wound allows more opportunity for subsequent scar retraction (Figure 1C), producing a final inverted or depressed scar (Figure 1D).


(1) An angulated skin wound can reduce blood supply to the distal portion of the shallow wound edge, resulting in necrosis of the shallow edge.

A large, deep bite is taken with the suture needle through the broad edge, and a small (2-mm) bite is taken on the shallow edge (Figure 2A). This path of the suture thread promotes eversion of the shallow edge and helps with the final appearance of the wound (Figure 2B).


(2) The simple suture repair technique for tangential wounds.



A C-shaped wound with beveled edges (Figure 3A) is produced by a tangential injury. Use a scalpel to create vertical wound edges (Figure 3B) that will then be undermined and approximated (Figure 3C). Wider excision of tissue is performed with a vertically held scalpel on the shallow edge compared with the broad edge (Figure 3D). It is difficult to debride the skin edge unless firm countertraction is applied to the tissues. Pull firmly out from the corners of the wound with the first two fingers of the nondominant hand when performing scalpel debridement of the wound edge (Figure 3E).


(3) The tangential injury has produced a C-shaped wound with beveled edges.

Before closing the wound with sutures, further undermine the wound edges (Figure 4A). Place the first suture in the middle of the wound (Figure 4B) and the next two in the middle of the remaining wound edges (i.e., halving technique) until the wound is closed (Figure 4C).


(4) Further undermine the wound edges before closing the wound with sutures.




The simple repair codes (12001–12020) are provided in Chapter 14. Intermediate (layered) closure codes (12031–12057) are provided inChapter 24. The 2002 Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) describes complex repair as the repair of wounds that requires more than layered closure, such as scar revision, débridement of traumatic lacerations or avulsions, extensive undermining, stents, or retention sutures. The necessary preparation of complex wounds includes the creation of a defect for repair. Complex repair should not be used with excision of benign or malignant lesions.

The complex repair code reported should describe the sum of the lengths of repair for each group of anatomic sites. The sites for these codes include the following: scalp, arms, or legs (SAL); forehead, cheeks, chin, mouth, neck, axilla, genitalia, hands, or feet (FCCMNAGHF); and eyelids, nose, ears, or lips (ENEL).

CPT® Code


2002 Average 50th Percentile Fee


Trunk 1.1–2.5 cm



Trunk 2.6–7.5 cm



Trunk, each addl. 5 cm or less (in addition to 13101)



SAL 1.1–2.5 cm



SAL 2.6–7.5 cm



SAL, each addl. 5 cm or less (in addition to 13121)



FCCMNAGHF 1.1–2.5 cm



FCCMNAGHF 2.6–7.5 cm



FCCMNAGHF, each addl. 5 cm or less (in add. to 13132)



ENEL ≤1.0 cm



ENEL 1.1–2.5 cm



ENEL, 2.6–7.5 cm



ENEL, each addl. 5 cm or less (in addition to 13152)



Secondary closure of surgical wound or dehiscence, extensive or complex


CPT® is a trademark of the American Medical Association.


Instruments for tangential laceration repair are included in the office surgical tray listed in Appendix A, and suggested suture removal times are listed in Appendix C. A suggested anesthesia tray that can be used for this procedure is listed in Appendix G. Skin preparation recommendations appear in Appendix H.




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