What is a Penetrating Trauma?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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A penetrating trauma is an injury to the body where a foreign object pushes through the skin and penetrates into the deeper layers of body tissue. This is usually a serious injury that can, in some cases, be life threatening or fatal. What matter most is what area is injured and the level of penetration. These injuries are most severe when the object damages internal structures like organs and major blood vessels.

In many cases, penetrating trauma is most associated with violent crimes that involve stabbings or gunshot wounds. There are certainly other instances when these can occur, but they tend to be less common. Some people in car accidents get a penetrating trauma when an object in the car pushes into the body at the point of a car crashing. Tornados and other natural disasters like earthquakes have been known to cause these injuries through high wind force that creates penetration or when structures collapse on people.

One special case exists for those people who may have an open fracture. Sometimes a broken bone pushes through the skin from the inside. This is a penetrating trauma, even though the bone is not a foreign object, and despite the fact that the penetration up through the skin layers comes from within instead of from without.


Another classification of the penetrating trauma is the perforating wound. This occurs many times in gunshot wounds where the bullet enters and then exits the body. Penetration doesn’t necessarily mean the object has exited, whereas perforation does.

Any form of penetrating trauma has to be considered as medically urgent. Without any form of medical scanning equipment, it’s impossible to tell how extensive the injury inside the body is. It is also very important to not remove the foreign object. This may cause additional damage. Sounder medical advice is to wait for medical experts to determine how it is best and safest to remove an object.

In some cases, a trauma that penetrates or perforates the body doesn’t require much treatment. In a hospital, scans might be performed to determine if there is tissue damage that needs to be addressed. Other people are not so lucky and may need surgery to remove an object, like a bullet, or to work on correcting and repairing structural damage or stopping internal bleeding. Infection control is important because it’s unlikely the penetrating foreign object was sterile or clean.

Other treatments for the penetrating trauma might include tetanus shots. People with these wounds may also need to stay in a hospital — certainly if surgery is performed — for several days to several weeks to recover. In the worst-case scenario, the degree of penetration is so immediately damaging that even a fast arrival at a hospital is too late. Fortunately, in many cases, injuries are not so dire and can be repaired.



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