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Soft Tissue Foreign Body

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is a soft tissue foreign body?

A soft tissue foreign body is an object that is stuck under your skin. Examples of foreign bodies include wood splinters, thorns, slivers of metal or glass, and gravel.

What are the signs and symptoms of a soft tissue foreign body?

  • A hard lump under your skin
  • An open wound
  • Pain when you touch the injured area
  • Redness and swelling
  • Bruising or bleeding

How is a soft tissue foreign body diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider may press on the edges of your wound to feel for the foreign body. You may need an x-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan to help find the foreign body. You may be given contrast liquid to help the foreign body show up better in the pictures. Tell the provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

  • A foreign body may dissolve or come out of your skin without treatment. It may take weeks or months for this to happen. Your provider will decide if the foreign body should be removed. The foreign body may not be removed if it could harm your blood vessels or nerves. You may need medicine to decrease pain and prevent infection such as tetanus. Tell your provider if you have had the tetanus vaccine or a tetanus booster within the last 5 years.
  • Your provider may numb the area and make a small incision. He or she will use tools to help remove the foreign body. He or she may flush your wound to prevent infection. You may need surgery if the foreign body cannot be found or removed with a small incision.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop the injured area on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

  • Apply ice on your wound for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Care for your wound as directed.
    • Apply firm, steady pressure for 5 to 10 minutes if your wound bleeds. Use a clean gauze or towel to apply pressure.
    • Your skin may feel stretched and sore after the foreign body is removed. This is normal and should get better within a few days. Keep your wound clean and dry. Do not get your wound wet. Do not change the bandage for 48 hours or as directed. You can change your bandages before 48 hours if they get wet or dirty. If your wound is packed, remove and change the packing as directed. Cover the area with a bandage as directed.
    • When your provider says it is okay to bathe, carefully wash around the wound with soap and water. Let soap and water run over your wound. Do not scrub your wound. Dry the area and put on new, clean bandages as directed.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • Your stitches come apart.
  • You see red streaks on the skin near your wound.
  • You have bleeding that does not stop after 10 minutes of holding firm, direct pressure over the wound.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your wound is red, swollen, and draining pus.
  • Your symptoms, such as pain, do not get better or get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.