How to Remove and Treat Thorns, Splinters, and Other Prick Wounds


HomeHome / Blog / How to Remove and Treat Thorns, Splinters, and Other Prick Wounds

Oct 06, 2023

How to Remove and Treat Thorns, Splinters, and Other Prick Wounds

Create a personalized feed and bookmark your favorites. Already have an account?

Create a personalized feed and bookmark your favorites.

Already have an account?

Create a personalized feed and bookmark your favorites.

Already have an account?

'D.Taylor in Idaho'

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! >","name":"in-content-cta","type":"link"}}">Download the app.

It's a prickly world out there. Splinters, cactus spines, thorns—at some point, you’re bound to discover some sharp little thing that's rudely lodged itself under your skin. You have several options: Try to ignore it and hope it goes away (it won't); grab the offending pricker with your fingers (chances are, you’ll only make things worse); or locate your well-stocked first aid kit to tackle the problem. Be prepared with our expert advice.

Prepare yourself ahead of time by stocking your first aid kit with the following items:

For more ideas about what to pack in a first aid kit, see our story on creating the ultimate first aid kit.

Before you venture out into the wilderness, ensure that your tetanus shot is up-to-date. Many pharmacies offer a TDAP (combination tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) shot on a walk-in basis.

If the thing that pricked you has disappeared under your skin, you’ll want to clean your instruments before you use them. (Technically we’re not sterilizing them, which requires special equipment and is very difficult to do in the backcountry.) There are mainly two choices of methods when you’re on (or off) the road: applying heat or using disinfectants.

This is the simplest and quickest method. A lighter works best, but you can use a match or build a campfire, as well. Hold the part of the needle or blade that is going to touch the wound over an open flame until the metal reddens—for about a minute—then let it cool before you proceed. If you see some black soot, don't bother wiping it off. It won't hurt you.

If you have time, you can boil or steam the instrument in water for at least 20 minutes. Start your stopwatch once you see rolling bubbles. The trick is removing the instrument without touching the part that will touch the wound and keeping it completely clean while it cools.

If you don't have fire, then hopefully you have some disinfectant, like isopropyl alcohol or iodine. Let the instrument soak in the solution, or dip it in and stir for a minute or so.

Once your instruments are disinfected, you’re reading to deal with the offending object. You’ll want to remove it as soon as possible.

Besides being painfully irritating, wood splinters, rose thorns, and other organic prickers left in your body can lead to bacterial or fungal infections. Although a clean sliver made of metal or glass might not cause you any problems, you’ll want to remove a cactus spine as soon as possible.

Usually, your body's own defenses will surround the splinter in pus and eventually push it out. However, if you develop a fever, that's likely a sign of an infection. If the area becomes red, swollen, tender, or hot to the touch, this may also indicate infection. Left untreated, an infection can become systemic, a condition also known as septicemia or blood poisoning, so keep checking for signs of infection.

Once the splinter is out, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water or a saline wound wash and apply antibiotics and a sterile adhesive bandage to prevent infection. Note: If the injury is larger than a puncture wound, see our photo tutorial on how to treat a gaping wound.

Tetanus, a bacteria found in soil, dust, or manure, enters the body through cuts or puncture wounds, especially if the wound is not properly cleaned. If you have let your tetanus shot lapse, you’ll want to get medical treatment (and an antitoxin and antibiotic) as soon as possible, especially if you notice any of these symptoms:

If you see any of these symptoms, it's time to cut your trip short and head towards the nearest hospital. At least you’ll have an excellent story to tell your kids some day.

Using these simple tools and techniques, you should be able to quickly remove most of the little things that get under your skin and patch things up properly. For tricky needles, quills, and thorns that need special treatment, read on.

Cactus-stabbing victims rarely say, "Hey, look at that: Now I look just like a cactus, too!" More likely, you hear a yowl of pain and notice that a portion of your buddy's anatomy resembles a pincushion. If all you have is tweezers, then find a comfortable spot, sit down, and start plucking. But if you planned ahead for your cactus-country hike and included a bottle of white glue or rubber cement in your first aid kit, you can use a more efficient method.

While the actual impalement with a porcupine quill is painful enough, it can get worse. Any movement can cause the quills to migrate deeper into flesh. Plus a quill's spongy core absorbs body fluid, causing it to swell and become more difficult to remove.

Working quickly and carefully is vital, since a quill broken under the skin requires surgical removal. With pliers or tweezers, take hold of the quill as close to the skin as possible. This will sting: Grit your teeth and pull it straight out.

The easiest way to deal with a quilling? Make sure it doesn't happen. Give porcupines their space.

Approach any plant that has thorns (like mesquite, palm, or plum trees, roses, thorny shrubs, yucca, cacti, bougainvillea, goat head thorn, or pyracantha) with care, because you don't want to risk septic arthritis. Plant thorn arthritis is a noninfectious inflammation of any joint—a knuckle, knee, or ankle, for example—that sometimes occurs when a thorn punctures the joint and a bit of plant matter is left lodged inside. If your joint is swollen, red, stiff, or tender, you should see a doctor.

Learn to handle other common medical problems with our online course on wilderness first aid.

From 2023

June 14, 2018 Buck Tilton Sign In Sign In Kristin Smith Robyn Fog Mary Beth "Mouse" Skylis Corey Buhay Jeff Garmire