Northside Health Library

Pin care

Alternate Names

Broken bone - rod care; Broken bone - nail care; Broken bone - screw care


Broken bones can be fixed in surgery with metal pins, screws, nails, rods, or plates. These metal pieces hold the bones in place while they heal. Sometimes, the metal pins need to stick out of your skin to hold the broken bone in place.

The metal and the skin around the pin must stay clean to prevent infection.

Pin Site

In this article, any metal piece that is sticking out of your skin after surgery is called a pin. The area where the pin comes out of your skin is called the pin site. This area includes the pin and the skin around it.

You must keep the pin site clean to prevent infection. If the site becomes infected, the pin may need to be removed. This could delay bone healing, and the infection could make you very sick.

Signs of Infection

Check your pin site every day for signs of infection. Signs of infection include:

  • Skin redness or skin at the site is warmer
  • Swelling or hardening of the skin
  • Pain
  • Drainage that is yellow, green, thick, or smelly
  • Fever
  • Numbness or tingling in the part of your body where the pin is
  • Movement or looseness of the pin

If you think you have an infection, call your surgeon right away.

Cleaning Supplies

There are different types of pin-cleaning solutions. The two most common solutions are sterile water or a mixture of half normal saline and half hydrogen peroxide. Use the solution that your surgeon recommends.

You will need these supplies for cleaning your pin site:

  • Gloves
  • Sterile cup
  • Sterile cotton swabs (about three swabs for each pin)
  • Sterile gauze
  • Cleaning solution

Cleaning Your Pin Site

Clean your pin site twice a day. Do not put lotion or cream on the area unless your surgeon tells you to use them.

Here are basic steps for cleaning your pin site. Your surgeon may have special instructions.

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Put on gloves.
  3. Pour the cleaning solution into the cup and put half of the swabs in the cup to moisten the cotton ends.
  4. Use a clean swab for each pin site. Start at the pin site and clean your skin by moving the swab away from the pin. To do this move the swab in a circle around the pin, then make the circles around the pin larger as you move away from the pin site.
  5. Remove any dried drainage from your skin with the swab.
  6. Use a new swab or gauze to clean the pin. Start at pin site and move up the pin, away from your skin.
  7. When you are done cleaning, use a dry swab or gauze in the same way to dry the area.

For a few days after your surgery you may wrap your pin site in dry sterile gauze, while it is healing. After this, you should leave the pin site open to air.

If you have an external fixator (a steel bar that may be used for fractures of long bones), clean it with gauze and cotton swabs dipped in your cleaning solution every day.

Most patients who have pins can take a shower 10 days after surgery. Ask your surgeon how soon you can shower.


Nettina SM. Musculoskeletal health. Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

Review Date: 4/18/2012
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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