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Have a Wound That Just Won't Heal? When and Where to Turn for Help

Today's Medicine
Published: Jan. 24, 2020

Whatever it was that led to your cut, gash, sore or burn, chances are likely that it wasn’t fun. But a wound that continues to bleed, ooze, itch or ache can be even more distressing. Don’t brush it off!

No matter how minor a wound may seem, specialized care is crucial if it’s not healing on its own.

Healing stages

There are three main stages of wound healing. Think of them as the three R’s.


Inflammation, which is your body’s first response to injury, often causes redness. As your wound swells, it’s being pumped full of cells and antibodies – your body’s attempt at fending off infection.


When redness and inflammation subside, wound tissue begins to rebuild itself. Damaged cells are replaced with new, healthy ones. Ideally, the recovering area will become a light red or pink color, which signifies adequate blood flow.


When a wound has completely closed up, the still somewhat fragile area begins to strengthen and sometimes scar. Cellular activity slows down as function is restored.

Keeping a wound clean and moist is vital to proper healing. Using mild soap and water prior to applying antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly and covering with a bandage or dressing is often sufficient in providing a wound the necessary environment to repair itself.

With any wound, it’s important to keep watch for signs of infection, which may include:

  • Yellow, green or cloudy drainage
  • Increased pain
  • A hot sensation surrounding the wound
  • Fever
  • Red streaking near the affected area

Risk factors for problem wounds

Sometimes wounds can become problematic. Several factors can delay a wound’s healing process, and some people – often those with other health issues – are more at risk than others for chronic wounds. Certain risk factors may include:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic venous disease
  • Arterial disease
  • Immobility
  • Circulation problems
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Use of certain medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, anticoagulants and immunosuppressants
  • Radiation therapy

If your wound doesn’t seem to be following the three R’s of healing, it may be time to seek help.

It’s important to note: The body often begins turning off the healing process for wounds that remain unhealed for 30 to 60 days. After about a month, the chemicals and cells usually found in a properly healing wound begin to decrease in the affected area, making healing all the more difficult.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

One of the most widely used types of therapy for chronic wounds is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It involves the inhalation and application of pure oxygen, often while lying down in a small tube-like chamber.

By breathing in and exposing wounds to nothing but pressurized oxygen, more oxygen molecules can be pumped into the blood, and then delivered to the areas where blood flow may not be sufficient. Over time, this kind of therapy stimulates the growth of new blood vessels that then replace damaged ones.

While most wounds respond to about 30 hyperbaric treatments, others may require upwards of 60. Not all wounds qualify for this type of therapy, but those that do almost always show significant improvement.

Seeking wound care treatment

Sometimes wounds require more than oxygen. They may require the assistance of plastic surgeons, vascular surgeons, skin substitutes or donated tissue.

While most people are referred to a wound care clinic by a primary care provider, surgeon or emergency department staff member, referrals aren’t always needed. If you’re suffering from a persistent wound, talk to your health care provider or call a trusted wound care center.

More resources

Gregory Stanislav

About the Author:

General surgeon and wound care physician Dr. Gregory Stanislav is the medical director of the Methodist Jennie Edmundson Advanced Wound Center.

He’s inspired daily by the caring, talented and knowledgeable people he’s surrounded by at Methodist, and he’s proud of the healing outcomes they’ve achieved together. He wants all his patients to know: “You’re never a number. You’re not just another wound.”

See More Articles by Gregory Stanislav