Abscess Packing Hand

Why are we still teaching the traditional incision and drainage approach to simple abscess drainage? They require frequent, painful packing changes to ensure persistent drainage of retained pus.

Trick of the Trade

Incision and loop drainage (I&LD) technique

As per usual, Dr. Rob Orman (ercast) beat me to this. He already reviewed the technique on his blog in 2010. This stems from a landmark article in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, which involves creating a persistently draining fistula at two points by using a small vascular loop, tied into a non-tensile loop.

It makes sense to extrapolate and use this technique for both pediatric and adult patients with uncomplicated abscess, especially if the patients may not follow-up for packing changes as scheduled. The added benefit is that showering is encouraged to help encourage drainage without the risk of dislodging the secured loop.


Does anyone have experience with this that they would like to share? Particularly, what if you don’t have the skinny vascular loops in your Emergency Department?

What are the follow-up instructions?

Per the Tsoraides article1:

  • Take a bath/shower TWICE daily for the first 3 days.
  • Remove the loop in 7-10 days (when the drainage stops and the overlying cellulitis resolves)


  1. Tsoraides S, Pearl R, Stanfill A, Wallace L, Vegunta R. Incision and loop drainage: a minimally invasive technique for subcutaneous abscess management in children. J Pediatr Surg. 2010;45(3):606-609. [PubMed]
Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at https://t.co/50EapJORCa Bio: https://t.co/7v7cgJqNEn
Michelle Lin, MD