What Is a Hohmann Retractor?

Mary McMahon

A Hohmann retractor is a surgical instrument used in orthopedics to expose bone for procedures. These devices come in a range of sizes and lengths for different applications and feature broad, flat blades with a curved profile for ease of insertion and exposure. Surgical supply catalogs, particularly those focusing on orthopedic needs, typically stock a range of Hohmann retractors, and specialty products can be directly ordered from manufacturers for use in some surgeries. Like other surgical instruments, they are designed to be sterilized so they can be safely used in the operating room.


The construction of a Hohmann retractor includes a solid handle that flares out to create a blade before narrowing again. Degree of curvature can depend on the intended use; some have very shallow curves, while others may be curved at almost 90°. Some handles are offset to provide more traction for the surgeon in procedures where it is difficult to get adequate leverage with a straight handle. To ease sterilization, the handle of a Hohmann retractor is not padded or otherwise treated, because this would make it harder to keep the instrument clean.

These devices are intended to be used manually. Surgeons may place them or direct an assistant to do so, and operating personnel can hold them in place to open the wound and expose the bone. Some operating rooms have holders that can lock onto the ends and hold a Hohmann retractor in place. This frees up the hands of assistants, makes the operating field less crowded, and reduces the risk of errors like retractor slips.

Surgeons planning for surgery can determine the tools they are most likely to need. For routine procedures a surgeon performs regularly, the operating room staff may have a kit they prepare with standard tools, including retractors, forceps, and other instruments. In a unique or unusual surgery, planning can include a discussion of patient size, wound length, and other factors that might be involved when selecting the best Hohmann retractor for a given setting. Several sizes can be prepared for surgery in the event the doctor calls for a different one.

Typically, surgical-grade steel is used in the construction of Hohmann retractors. It is designed to resist oxidation and it can endure the high temperature and humidity of the autoclave used to treat medical instruments. After each procedure, technicians wash the tools in specialized soaps before packaging them for autoclaving so they can be sterilized for the next procedure.

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