surgical retractors

Types and Uses of Surgical Retractors

Before delving into details, let’s eliminate jargon for non-medical readers. What exactly is a surgical retractor?

Surgical Retractor – What is it, and what does it do?

A surgical retractor is an exuberant medical instrument that is normally used during surgeries and major operations. The primary task of a retractor is to hold a surgical incision open to hold back the tissues. As a result, it helps in achieving a clear line of surgical sight and reach other tissues and structures.

The Significance of Surgical Retractors

During the process of dissection, a surgeon needs a clear aerial view of the tissues or other organs in the best way possible. The opening to a retractor is significantly easier since the handles comprise of different shapes, i.e. ring-shaped, notched, and hooked. It gives the surgeon a firm and tight hold of the retractor. The blades of the retractor are located at the right side of the shaft. Moreover, to give a better view of the area of the surgical incision and make the experience less traumatic for the patient, the blades can be hooked, raked, or smooth.

Materials Used for Retractors

To hold the internal organs together, a very high-grade stainless steel is the sole requirement. A common, yet important material to make a retractor is superior-grade stainless steel. 

Why Stainless Steel is the Preferable Option?

Experts recommend stainless steel for the production of retractors because of its strength and ability to sterilize. Therefore, it makes the retractors hard.


With pros, there are cons. Same is the case with stainless steel.

  • One of the downsides of it is that stainless steel is extremely slippery, which leads to tissue damage.
  • The second drawback of stainless steel is that it is thermally conductive, which, as a result, leads to tissue injury.
  • Another drawback of using stainless steel is that under high-illuminative lights, they glare and cause a distraction for the surgeon. But, it is very common among medical instruments and surgical items.

The Solution

To find a possible solution for these cons, surgical retractors combine forces with polymeric materials to overcome these deficits. These polymeric materials include:

  • Thermosetting materials
  • Polyimide
  • Polyetherimide

In addition to the prior information, it is also worth noting that surgical retractors must be sterilized and autoclaved. The sterilization process is necessary because surgeons can use retractors again.

Types of Retractors

Based on their functionality, there are two further types of retractors, called:

  • Self-retaining retractors.
  • Handheld retractors.

Self-retaining Retractors

Retractors, such as self-retaining, do not need an entity to hold them still. They retain their place and make themselves stay by retaining the spot. They hold the tissue apart and then lock them in the desired position. One example of it is rib spreaders. During any abdominal surgery, they keep the ribs apart when the surgeon has to reach to any organ inside the ribcage.

Some of the commonly used self-retaining retractors are:

·         Balfour Retractors

Balfour retractors are 3-sided retractors with an ability to make an opening for a fourth blade as well. Only place them in the designation position, and they will do their work as self-retaining retractors.

·         Gosset Retractors

By giving exposure to abdominal viscera, the Gosset retractor is another type of self-retaining retractor. It has two movable blades that act according to the incision the surgeon wants to open.

·         Balfour Baby Retractors

With an extreme spread of 3.5”, Balfour baby retractors are perfect for young and youthful patients with little bodies. It has fixed fenestrated side cutting edges that help with opening an entry point.

Handheld Retractors

As the name suggests, handheld retractors can be held in hand, and they cannot be retained in a specific position. Surgeons require assistants to hold handheld retractors, unlike self-retaining retractors. They need to handle them with maximum efficiency.

·         Senn

It is a double-ended retractor generally used to retract surface tissue. Surgeons mostly use them in small bone procedures or dissection of neck tissue.

·         Army-Navy

It is used to retract superficial incisions ranging from small wounds to abdominal operations.

·         Ribbon (Malleable)

For deep wounds, you can use these types of handheld retractors. They can be bent to a myriad of shapes in holding back tissue.

Final Words

The list of retractors does not stop there. If we start counting, it might end after days of counting. The reason being – they are used for the whole body, i.e. head, legs, torso, arms, tissues, other vital organs and about 100 trillion cells.

Do you feel there is a better alternative to retractors? We’d love to hear your opinions.