Wound drains in orthopaedic surgery (surgery on the joints or limbs)

Drainage systems may be used to drain fluid, mostly blood, from surgical wounds after an operation. The drains can either be open or closed. Closed drains use vacuum bottles and plastic conduits to draw fluid away from the wound by producing a negative pressure. They have been evaluated within trials for a number of elective and emergency orthopaedic operations. Closed surgical drainage systems reduce the need for reinforcement of the dressing and bruising around the wound, but increase the need for blood transfusion. Wound drains do not appear to have any effect on the occurrence of wound infections, large blood collections within the wound (haematomas), or the need for additional surgery to correct wound healing complications.

Closed suction wound drains in orthopaedic surgery are of doubtful benefit.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is insufficient evidence from randomised trials to support the routine use of closed suction drainage in orthopaedic surgery. Further randomised trials with larger patient numbers are required for different operations before definite conclusions can be made for all types of orthopaedic operations.

Read the full abstract...

Closed suction drainage systems are frequently used to drain fluids, particularly blood, from surgical wounds. The aim of these systems is to reduce the occurrence of wound haematomas and infection.


To evaluate the effectiveness of closed suction drainage systems for orthopaedic surgery.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (March 2006), and contacted the Cochrane Wounds Group. We also searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 1), and MEDLINE (1966 to March 2006). Articles of all languages were considered.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised or quasi-randomised trials comparing the use of closed suction drainage systems with no drainage systems for all types of elective and emergency orthopaedic surgery.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed trial quality, using a nine item scale, and extracted data. Where appropriate, results of comparable studies were pooled.

Main results: 

Thirty-six studies involving 5464 participants with 5697 surgical wounds were identified. The types of surgery involved were hip and knee replacement, shoulder surgery, hip fracture surgery, spinal surgery, cruciate ligament reconstruction, open meniscectomy and fracture fixation surgery.

Pooling of results indicated no statistically significant difference in the incidence of wound infection, haematoma, dehiscence or re-operations between those allocated to drains and the un-drained wounds. Blood transfusion was required more frequently in those who received drains. The need for reinforcement of wound dressings and the occurrence of bruising were more common in the group without drains.