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What Are Dissecting Forceps?

By D. Fish
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dissecting forceps are medical instruments used to help surgeons grasp and grip small objects during procedures. Despite their name, they are rarely used in clinical dissections. Dissections are usually academic exercises performed on dead animals, plants, or even people that have as their main goal the removal and categorization of parts. This style of forceps is actually quite good at dissection since it allows exacting control over small specimens, but this comes at a cost; the instruments are precise and as a consequence are usually too expensive for routine science labs and schools to have for student use. Surgeons and surgical nurses are the primary consumers. These sorts of forceps are usually pretty easy to identify based on their general resemblance to tweezers and their spring-loaded grip, and their main job in these capacities is to separate tissues and to give practitioners a heightened degree of control during procedures. They are a part of the larger thumb forceps family, and come in a range of sizes and variations depending on their primary use.

Physical Properties

Generally speaking, forceps are handheld, hinged instruments used for grasping and holding objects. The term "forceps" is almost exclusively used in the medical field. They often look like scissors at the handle with loops for surgeons’ fingers. Dissecting forceps don't usually have a defined handle, but rather have two arms with jaws at the front and a spring joint at the back. They are almost always symmetrical, and they can be used either right-handed or left-handed. When it comes to grip, a person's index and middle finger should generally be placed on the top arm, and the thumb should be placed on bottom arm. An increase in pressure by the thumb and fingers will press the arms together to take hold of an object with the same movement as tweezers.

Primary Uses

Dissecting forceps are comparable to tweezers in style but allow one to easily and quickly grab a hold of small objects or tissue to transport and release or to hold tissue in place with different amounts of pressure. They are an extension of a surgeon's grip and are used for convenience in holding tissue, sutures, and needles. They are often used to hold tissue in place when applying sutures, to move tissues out of the way during surgery, or to move or remove dressings without using the hands or fingers. Surgeons frequently praise the control these tools impart and the precision they allow.


Dissecting forceps can come in a variety of styles and sizes, usually graded for specific purposes or tasks. For instance, the narrower the ridges are between the jaws on each arm, the more delicate the tissue the forceps will hold without causing tears or any other damage. Similarly, if the jaws are spread further apart, they are usually meant to pick up heavier tissues.

Sometimes the arms are toothed to better grasp different tissues. In general, teeth and ridges help cause less damage to tissue by decreasing the amount of overall pressure needed to grip the object. Longer or shorter arms can also be used depending on the overall depth of the operating site. The exterior of the arms also usually displays a patterned grip that allows for more precise use and more comfort, even through surgical gloves.

Larger Forceps Family

This surgical instrument falls under the category of thumb forceps, also sometimes known as non-locking forceps. These tend to be hinged in the middle and often appear scissor-like with finger loops used for gripping with a finger and thumb. They are usually used as clamps, and the lock is controlled by the fingers. Although there are many kinds of locking forceps, Kelly forceps are an example of locking forceps that are commonly used as a surgical instrument.

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