Bandage Scissors and Trauma Shears: What are They Used For?

Dietrich Easter
Trauma Shears

What's the big deal with bandage scissors? If you're curious about trauma shears and bandage scissors, you're in the right place. This guide will explain the differences between bandage scissors and trauma shears and show you how first responders use them.

 What are bandage scissors used for? Responders use bandage shears to cut and size dressings, ace wrap, and clothing. Bandages shears are similar to trauma shears, and some people might use the terms interchangeably. 

With that said, we will discuss the importance of a good set of bandage scissors and trauma shears. Not only that, but we'll give you a few "off-label" uses.

Let’s begin by getting an overview of trauma shears and bandages scissors, and then we'll talk about different types of shears and their uses. 

What are Bandage Scissors? 

Bandage scissors are sometimes known as trauma shears (though the two aren't exactly the same). Medical professionals use bandage scissors and trauma shears for all sorts of different things. Paramedics and nurses often have a set of shears ready to cut extra gauze or cling wrap.

Differences between bandage scissors and regular scissors: 

  • Angles. They are angled, so you can easily slip them underneath bandages or clothing. 

  • Blunt. They have a blunt tip that removes the risk of injuring the patient. 

  • Stout. Bandage shears and trauma shears are usually thicker than regular scissors. They rely more on leverage than slicing power. 

Often, medical professionals might be dealing with a combative patient - someone who isn't cooperative (perhaps after a head injury). The blunt nose of the bandage scissors protects the patient from accidental stabs or cuts.

Many bandages and trauma shears also have small serrations on one of the blades. These small serrations help the scissors grip the material, preventing slippage. 


Note: We'll talk about both bandage scissors and trauma shears in this article. However, we'll explain some key differences in the next section.


What's the Difference Between Trauma Shears and Bandage Scissors? 

There are differences between bandage shears and trauma shears. Bandage shears tend to be smaller and slightly less robust. However, both can accomplish similar tasks, albeit with varying effectiveness.  

For example, if you need to remove a bandage or a cast, then the more nimble bandage shears will be a better tool. However, if you need to cut a leather jacket, then a set of sturdy trauma shears will be more appropriate. 

Below, you'll learn some of the practical differences between trauma shears and bandage scissors. 

Three differences between bandage scissors and trauma shears: 

  1. Bandage scissors are usually full stainless steel. A fully stainless-steel bandage shear allows the blades to be cleaned and sterilized if needed. While these are not for surgery, nurses might remove a bandage covering an open wound - in these cases, you wouldn't want regular trauma shears, as there could be gunk around the handles. 

  2. Bandage scissors are usually smaller. You might use bandage scissors to make precise cuts – for example, small bandages for fingers. Trauma shears are usually larger, so you can quickly find them remove clothing in an emergency. 

  3. Trauma shears are usually stronger. Trauma shears will cut through thick, tough material. Many professional shears can cut thin metal in a pinch (not advised for routine use). However, trauma shears also have larger grippy handles, so you can easily grab them, and they won't become slippery when contacting fluid.

You can share some uses for trauma shears and bandages scissors; however, it's important to know each tool's limitations. 

Why Do Paramedics Carry Trauma Shears? 

Paramedics, EMTs, and nurses all carry trauma shears or bandages scissors. In fact, aside from a good stethoscope, scissors shears are one of the most popular pieces of gear. 


Jobs for bandage scissors:  

  1. Cutting bandages. If you work in a wound clinic or a hospital, you'll likely use bandage shears for cutting dressings, light casts, or thin clothing. If needed, you can clean stainless steel bandage shears - important if you're working around an open wound. 

  2. Removing patient clothing. A more robust shear - often called trauma shears, will cut clothing from a patient. First responders used trauma shears when responding to accidents, gunshots, or falls. The shears rapidly remove clothing so that paramedics can assess and treat injuries. If you can't see it, you can't treat it! 


Let's talk about these uses in more depth. 

Note: Be careful about using a sharp knife for these tasks. However, if you want a knife for backup uses, you can buy specially made "rescue knives" - these knives have a blunt tip that won't harm the patient. 

Secret Uses of Trauma Shears and Bandage Scissors 

For people in the first responder community, the ideas in this section are no secret. However, for those curious about trauma shears, you may be interested in learning some of their “off-label” uses. 


Off-label uses for trauma shears. 

  • You can use trauma shears as the windlass on an improvised tourniquet. In a mass casualty incident, you may need to make extra tourniquets. With a triangular bandage and a set of trauma shears, you can improvise a tourniquet. After wrapping the bandage around your limb, you can tie a knot below and about the center of the shears - then you just twist the shears until bleeding stops. If you're curious, check out this video on improvised tourniquets. 

  • You can use trauma shears to open an O2 tank. If you're helping someone who needs oxygen, you'll know that it's easy to lose the wrench to open the tanks - this is a big deal! With trauma shears, you can just place the inside of the handles around the O2 tank nut, squeeze and twist the tank open. If you need to, place some tape inside your handles to give you more grip. 

  • Trauma shears as an extrication tool. Trauma shears are a good tool for cutting seat belts. Often, a sturdy pair of trauma shears will give you more control than a standard seatbelt cutter. Also, some trauma shears come with a glass breaker on the handle.


Now, let’s talk about some common types of trauma shears.

What are the Best Trauma Shears? 

The best type of shears will depend on your situation. However, in this section, we'll show you several types of trauma shears and discuss the pros and cons. 


Types of trauma shears: 

  • Low-budget trauma shears. Inexpensive trauma shears will still get the job done - though they'll struggle with thicker material. If you often lose trauma shears, or like to have a backup pair, then getting some standard shears is smart. 

  • Robust trauma shears. Some trauma shears – like the X-Shears – will take abuse. The X-shears are extra strong, extra smooth, and can cut through lots of layers. The x-shear makes for good primary scissors - especially for the first responder. 

  • Rapid-cutting tool. The rescue hook will expose injuries fast - nice when treating penetrating trauma. Many battle-field medics prefer rescue hooks. With that said, you need to keep them sharp. 


With all these tools, it's easy to lose them in the heat of an emergency. For this reason, it's smart to attach them to a scissor leash. You can attach the leash to your belt or backpack, so your trauma shears don't walk away. 

Key Takeaway on Bandage Scissors and Trauma Shears 

Both these tools have some overlap in their uses. With that said, you probably want to stick with bandage scissors for clean environments. Trauma shears work best for use in the field. 

Gadgets are fun, but it's important to have the knowledge to treat an emergency. If you haven't already, enroll in a Stop the Bleed course, and be sure to update your CPR and first aid certifications. 

For more on treating injuries, check out these articles on avoiding mistakes during bleeding control and how to perform rescue breathes