Digital ulcer debridement in systemic sclerosis: a systematic literature review

Clin Rheumatol. 2020 Mar;39(3):805-811. doi: 10.1007/s10067-019-04924-4. Epub 2020 Jan 18.


Optimal wound care is an essential component in the management of systemic sclerosis (SSc) digital ulcers (DUs). DU debridement has been suggested to reduce ulcer-related pain and improve tissue healing. However, only a minority of rheumatologists perform DU debridement, and there is no standard of care/protocol. Our objectives were to (i) evaluate the current evidence for the use of debridement in DU management and (ii) assess whether there are any specific protocols. A systematic literature review was performed searching the PubMed database (between 01/01/1950-01/03/2019) in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. Two independent reviewers screened and extracted the abstracts/full manuscripts. Articles in English, which focussed on SSc-DU debridement/curettage, were included. Exclusion criteria included studies of juvenile/paediatric patients and basic/non-clinical research. Our search identified 1497 studies of which 4 studies were included in our final analysis. Three studies used scalpel debridement, and one study used this in combination with autolytic debridement. No studies specifically reported the effect on DU healing from debridement. Autolytic debridement with hyaluronate-based products was associated with significant ulcer pain and inflammation. Local anaesthetic significantly reduces pain both during and after debridement. Combined local and oral analgesia is often required for more severe or infected DUs. DU (scalpel and autolytic) debridement is being used by some clinicians in rheumatology; however, there are no standardised protocols. To improve wound care for SSc-DUs, future research should focus on developing a standardised protocol for SSc-DU debridement, with a view to facilitate randomised controlled trials to demonstrate safety and treatment efficacy.Key Points• Optimal wound care is an essential component in the management of systemic sclerosis-digital ulcers.• 'Sharp' debridement uses a scalpel, whereas 'autolytic' debridement uses dressings to optimize endogenous tissue lysis.• There is significant variation in the use of digital ulcer debridement in systemic sclerosis.• A standardized protocol and randomized controlled trials are needed to demonstrate debridement the safety and efficacy of digital ulcer debridement in systemic sclerosis.

Keywords: Autolytic debridement; Debridement; Digital ulcers; Scleroderma; Sharp debridement; Systemic sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Debridement / methods*
  • Fingers / pathology
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain Management
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / surgery
  • Skin Ulcer / therapy*
  • Wound Healing


  • Anesthetics, Local