Essential Surgical Instruments: An Overview

August 15, 2023

surgical instrumentsSurgical instruments are essential tools that help medical professionals perform surgical procedures precisely, efficiently, and safely. While there is a large selection of tools available, the type of surgical instruments used in any particular case will vary depending on the type of surgery being performed. In this article, we discuss the most common surgical tools and their uses.

Common Surgical Tools  

There are many different types of surgical instruments with a variety of different uses. Some are designed for specific procedures, while some of the more common tools can be used for a wide range of surgeries. These more common instruments include, but are not limited to:  

  • Clamps: Surgical clamps are used to clamp tissue or blood vessels and halt bleeding. There are several types of clamps that differ based on the design of the jaws, each with its own specific purpose. Some also have “teeth” (serrated jaws) while others have smooth ones.  
  • Curettes: Curettes are used for scraping or scoping tissue, and are particularly useful when manipulating soft tissue. They come in many handle styles with either round or oval heads of varying sizes. Some are also disposable for single-patient use and convenient infection control.  
  • Forceps: Forceps are used to grasp and hold tissue, blood vessels, or organs during surgery. These come in different sizes and thicknesses depending on the application and can be serrated or non-serrated.  
  • Hammers and Mallets: Surgical hammers and mallets are used to help drive a nail or screw into a bone. Bone mallets in particular are often used during orthopedic surgery.  
  • Hooks: Surgical hooks are designed to grasp, move, or remove tissue or objects. Skin hooks are often used in dermatology and are helpful in performing delicate skin surgery.  
  • Retractors: Retractors are used to hold open incisions or hold back tissue and organs, providing greater access to the surgical site. They can either be hand-held or self-retaining.  
  • Rongeurs: Rongeurs are used to create holes in bone during surgery, providing access to obstructed tissue or organs. They have sharp, scoop-shaped tips.  
  • Scalpels: A scalpel is a small, thin knife used for the initial incision to begin a surgical procedure. Scalpel blades come in different sizes, identified by a blade number, and are usually made of stainless or high-carbon steel. Some come with additional safety features to protect against injury from exposed blades—Safety Scalpels, for example, are fully retractable using one hand, making it easy to keep the blade sheathed when not in use.  
  • Scissors: Surgical scissors are used to cut sutures and tissue. Generally, straight scissors are used for cutting sutures, and curved scissors are used for cutting heavy tissue.  
  • Specula: A speculum is used to dilate an orifice or a canal. They are commonly used during gynecological exams or procedures.  
  • Suction Devices: Suction devices are used to remove excess fluids or debris from the surgical site. These require both a suction source and tubing.  
  • Sutures and Needles: Sutures are used for stitching wounds and incisions back together. There are a variety of suture types that can be used, including traditional filaments, adhesives, and clips. 

Surgical Instrument Care 

For surgical instruments to be safe and effective, they must be properly cared for. Proper cleaning and storage are essential for keeping surgical tools free of infection and damage. This helps protect the patient from potential complications and helps ensure the success of the procedure.   

Instrument bands and guards help protect tools from potential damage during handling or storage. For instruments with sharp edges or blades, these protective measures also keep them securely closed or sheathed, reducing injury risk for the medical professionals who will be handling them.

The term “surgical instruments” covers a wide range of tools used in the operating room. Many of these tools are designed for specific procedures—however, the instruments covered in this article provide a basic overview of the most common ones.


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