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Other namesSliver
Wooden splinter in a finger
TypesWood, hair, glass, plastic, metal, and spines of animals
Risk factorsInfection
Diagnostic methodUltrasonography

A splinter (also known as a sliver) is a fragment of a larger object, or a foreign body that penetrates or is purposely injected into a body. The foreign body must be lodged inside tissue to be considered a splinter. Splinters may cause initial pain through ripping of flesh and muscle, or infection through bacteria on the foreign object.[1]

Splinters commonly consist of wood, but there are many other types, for example, other common types of splinters are, hair, glass, plastic, metal, and spines of animals.[2]

As with any wound that breaks the skin, splinters can lead to infection, which if left untreated could develop into more serious complications. If a splinter is in the body for more than 2–3 days, or if the wound shows signs of inflammation or tenderness (whether the splinter was removed or not), advice should be sought from a doctor.

Getting a splinter

Generally, a splinter causes an initial feeling of pain as the sharp object makes its initial penetration through the body. Through this penetration, the object cuts through the cutaneous layer of the skin, and settles in the subcutaneous layer of the skin, and can even penetrate further down, breaking the sub-cutaneous layer, settling in muscle tissue, or even the bone. Some splinters will remain in place, but most will continue to migrate through the body (eg. hair splinters), further damaging their surroundings.


Sea urchins may cause splinters

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common foreign bodies contracted by people fall into two official classes: biological splinters, and nonbiological splinters.[3] In the biological class, splinters include bone, fish spines, teeth, hair and wood. In the nonbiological class, common splinters contracted are glass, metal, aluminum, fishhooks, pencil graphite, and plastic.

Rarely, people may become infected with splinters from more unusual sources. Common cases of exotic foreign bodies include sea urchins, insect stings, stingray spines, and even grenade shrapnel.

Specific details of some splinters


Anatomy The Skin - NCI Visuals Online

Splinters are often first detected by the person with the splinter in their body. There are many signs that a splinter has entered one's body.

Signs of a hidden foreign body


Ultrasonography of a subcutaneous splinter (in a finger) 4 x 1mm with oblique stroke.

If manual detection and localization fail, the main methods for medical imaging of splinters are:

Small wooden splinters (1–4 mm) distant from bones are most easily detected by ultrasonography, while CT scan and magnetic resonance imaging have higher sensitivity for those near bones.[7]


There are many medical techniques to remove splinters safely.[8] Common medical techniques include the Elliptical Technique and the String Technique.[9] In the elliptical technique the surrounding area of the splinter is sliced in an elliptical formation. From there the flesh in the elliptical area is cut (in the shape of an upside-down cone) and the whole chunk of flesh containing the splinter is removed. The Needle Cover Technique is limited to fishhook removal. A string is looped around the base of the hook, and as the hook is pressed further into the skin, the string is pulled, allowing the barbs to be unhooked from muscle and follow the path of the rest of the hook out of the body without snagging any additional flesh.[9][10]

Since the splinter has penetrated through a physical barrier of the body it allows for an individual to get an infection.[11] The opening from the splinter will make it easier for bacteria to get into the body. It is strongly encouraged for the removal of a splinter before falling victim to an infection.


Infection is usually determined by the duration of time that the foreign object remains lodged in the human body. Objects that have included poison, deep penetration, dirt, or bite injuries generally result in a shorter time until infection is notable. According to the AAFP, patients that are older, or have diabetes, or have wounds that are longer, wider, more jagged or deeper, have a much higher risk of infection. Simply the easiest way to avoid infection is to completely remove the splinters or foreign body as soon as possible. Though infection is generally the largest complication encountered with splinters, ranging from 1.1 to 12 percent presence, the use of antibiotics in non-bite cases is generally deemed unnecessary by the medical community.[12] Though cases are rare, infection of foreign body wounds can result in cases of tetanus. [13]

One case of tetanus contraction through a splinter was seen in Ohio in 1993. An 80-year-old woman was presented to an ED with dysphagia and a stiff jaw. Not long after a preliminary checkup, a wood splinter was found to have been lodged in her chin for approximately 1 week; the area was erythematous with active purulent drainage. The woman was diagnosed with tetanus, admitted to the hospital, and begun on a regimen of 3,000 units of tetanus immune globulin, tetanus toxoid, and intravenous clindamycin. Despite aggressive treatment, including assisted mechanical ventilation, the patient died 15 days later from the effects of her primary infection. The woman had no history of previous tetanus vaccinations despite previous care for a wound and ongoing medical attention for hypertension.[14]

Since most splinters are made of organic matter, they are much more dangerous than other types of things puncturing the body. Splinters are usually infected with many bacteria which then turn into an infection such as tetanus. Due to a splinter being made of organic matter, it makes it much more difficult for the body to get rid of it.[15]


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  3. ^ American College of Emergency Physicians: clinical policy for the initial approach to patients presenting with penetrating extremity trauma. Ann Emerg Med. 1999;33:612–36.
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  11. ^ "What Happens if You Don't Take Out a Splinter?". Live Science. 15 June 2019.
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