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What is a Gelpi Retractor?

By Britt Archer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Surgical equipment includes all tools that aid a skilled medical professional in performing surgery to repair, remove or alter bodily tissues. A surgical retractor is a specialized instrument used in medicine to separate and hold tissue. There are over 40 different types of retractors, each tailored to a specific job. A Gelpi retractor is a small retractor used to expand and retract tissues to give surgeons a better view during surgery.

Surgeons use different retractors for different purposes. When a surgeon needs to maneuver in a small area, such as the larynx or perianal area, a Gelpi retractor is the medical instrument of choice. The instrument is not suited to larger, longer or tougher tissues such as the viscera. In the case of the inter-abdominal viscera, the bulky Deaver retractor would be used.

Surgeons don't just use only one type of retractor. Instead, each retractor is used as part of a larger surgical pack or kit. In the case of lifesaving open heart surgery, for example, the surgeon would use a larger Richardson retractor to move the superficial chest tissue out of the way and a Gelpi retractor to maneuver closer to the heart. Each retractor works to enhance the work of the surgeon and the efficacy of the other tools.

Surgical supplies often look bizarre, and the Gelpi retractor is no exception. Gelpi retractors are similar to scissors, but have two pointed blades that resemble horns with pointed tips. The tips meet the tissue and the blades are used as leverage to move the bodily tissue out of the way.

Gelpi retractors are self-retaining retractors, meaning they hold their shape and position once they are set in place. This is possible by virtue of a box lock, a sliding mechanism located on the side of the surgical instrument. Not all retractors are self-retaining. A Senn retractor, for example, is used for short-term tissue manipulation. It resembles a double-ended back scratcher and is held in place only by the surgeon's touch.

Different sizes of Gelpi retractors are available to surgeons. The most common length is 7 inches (17.78 cm), but are also available in sizes starting at 3.5 inches (8.89 cm). Length doesn't affect how the Gelpi retractor works. Rather, different lengths are used in different procedures depending upon the size and location of the tissues the surgeon needs to retract.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996092 — On Jul 08, 2016

Nobody in the universe would use a Richardson or a Gelpi in heart surgery. Would a mechanic use a potato to fix your car?

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