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How do I know if my surgical incision is infected?

So, your surgery is done and now is the time to focus on rehab and getting back to normal strength and range of motion. Following some surgeries, rehab progress can be slowed by surgical incision site infection (SISI). Prior to surgery or post-surgery, it is important to have some knowledge on exactly what surgical site infection is and some signs/symptoms of it so that you can catch it early. It is important to know that if a surgical site does become infected, do not panic, it will be ok and can be treated with medications. That being said, the sooner you let your Doctor know the better.

While SISI’s are rare (2-5% of surgeries performed), any time the skin is cut open, there is a risk of infection. While infections can be treated with medications such as antibiotics, it is important to spot them early so your Doctor can start to treat it as soon as possible. Typically, SISI’s occur within 30 days of the surgery being performed, but can happen up to 1-year post surgery (especially if an implant was used such as total knee/hip).

Signs and symptoms that may indicate infection:

  1. Redness: it is common after surgery to have skin discoloration around the wound, but this is usually colors associated with bruising such as yellow/purple. Prolonged redness around the incision site may mean an infection is present.

  2. Fever: Technically a fever is considered any temperature >98.6 degrees F; for infection, it is typically a temp >100 degrees F for more then 24 hours.

  3. Acute Pain: It is common to have pain around an incision following surgery, but usually you can find relief from this pain by resting, elevating, icing, etc. If you are unable to get relief from pain for >24 hours, this may be a sign of infection. As days pass since surgery, you should notice a gradual decrease in pain, however, if infection is present you may notice pain getting worse or not getting better in many cases.

  4. Warm to the touch: this goes hand in hand with a fever; when an infection is present, the incision and area around it will feel abnormally warm compared to other skin on your body.