Management of the retained knife blade

World J Surg. 2010 Jul;34(7):1648-52. doi: 10.1007/s00268-010-0514-4.


Background: The retained knife blade is an unusual and spectacular injury. The aim of this study was to review our experience with the management of such injuries.

Methods: A retrospective chart review of patients with retained knife blades treated at Groote Schuur Hospital Trauma Centre from January 1996 to December 2007 was undertaken.

Results: Thirty-three patients with retained knife blades were identified. Site of wound entry was the thorax in 13 patients (40%), the neck and back in 7 patients (21%) each, upper and lower extremities in 4 (12%), and the face and abdomen in 1 patient (3%) each. Thirty patients (91%) were hemodynamically stable on admission; two (6%) presented with wound abscesses, and one patient (3%) with active bleeding required emergency surgery. All 33 blades were extracted after clinical and radiological assessment. Simple withdrawal of the blade was possible in 19 cases (58%) and the likelihood of post-extraction bleeding was only 5%. Thirteen patients (40%) required an open surgical approach through dissection of the entry wound, laparotomy, or thoracotomy. Video-assisted thoracoscopic removal was used in one case. Retained thoracic blades were significantly associated with postoperative sepsis (P = 0.0054). There were no deaths.

Conclusions: All impacted knife injuries require careful clinical and radiological assessment. Simple withdrawal can be performed safely in the emergency room provided potential life-threatening vascular and solid organ injuries have been excluded. There should be a low threshold for investigating and treating patients with retained intrathoracic blades for postoperative sepsis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Foreign Bodies / complications
  • Foreign Bodies / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted
  • Thorax
  • Wounds, Stab / surgery*
  • Young Adult