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Pin Care: What to Expect at Home

Your Recovery

To hold your bone in place as it heals, your doctor inserted one or more pins into the bone. Some pins are like thick wires. Others are more like screws. In some cases, the pins are attached to an external fixator. This device helps hold your bone in place from outside your body.

Pins may stay in place until the bone is healed. Your doctor will tell you how long the pins will be needed.

The places where the pins go into the skin are called the pin sites. You must keep these areas clean to prevent infection. An infection could make a pin become loose or even require your doctor to take out a pin.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Pin care

Your doctor will give you specific information on when and how to clean the pin sites. The following is general information.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Get your cleaning supplies ready. Your doctor will tell you what to use. These supplies usually include:
    • A cleaning solution.
    • Cups to hold the solution.
    • Cotton swabs.
    • Cotton gauze.
  3. Wash your hands again.
  4. Use your fingers to gently massage the area around the pin. This can move skin attached to the pin away from the pin and help any fluid rise to the skin, where you can clean it.
  5. Clean each pin site with cotton swabs. Use a new swab for each pin site.
    • Dip the swab in the cleaning solution.
    • Clean the pin site. Circle around the site, moving away from the pin. If there is any crust around the pin, remove it with the swab. Use as many swabs as you need until the site is clean.
    • Dry the area with a new swab.
  6. Clean the pin with a swab or gauze dipped in the cleaning solution. Pay close attention to any threaded area on the pin. Use a new swab or piece of gauze for each pin.
  7. For the first few days, wrap gauze loosely around each pin site.
  8. If you have a fixator, use gauze or cotton swabs dipped in the cleaning solution to clean the fixator and any wires that connect it to the pins.

Other instructions

  • Your doctor will tell you when you can take a shower. In general, the pin sites need to be kept dry for a while after they have been put in place. Ask your doctor if and when you can swim while the pins are in.
  • Prop up the pin area on a pillow, if the pin is on your arm or leg. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Be careful when moving around. You don't want to bump or snag the pin or fixator on anything. Your doctor may give you specific instructions on what you can and can't do.
  • Avoid clothing that pulls or rubs on the pin or fixator. If possible, don't wear clothing over it. Be careful when getting dressed so that your clothing doesn't snag on the pin or fixator.
  • Your doctor will tell you how and when you can exercise and when you can drive.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from any incision or pin site.
    • Pus draining from any incision or pin site.
    • A fever.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness around the pin area.
  • Your splint, if you have one, feels too tight.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in the leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have new or increased pain.
  • You notice that the pin or any part of the fixator seems loose or out of place.
  • There is bleeding around a pin site that won't stop.
  • You also have a splint and there's drainage or a bad smell coming from it.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.