Trick of the Trade: A "handy" ruler

Apr 21, 10
Trick of the Trade: A 'handy' ruler

LacerationNeckAgitation5smHow long is this neck laceration?

In the Emergency Department, it is important to be able to accurately estimate the length of wounds, abscesses, and cellulitis. Additionally, billing for wound closure is directly related to the length of the laceration.

The problem for me is that I personally hate carrying too many things in my pocket on a shift. This includes a ruler. Can you imagine stopping the resuscitation and evaluation for the patient above because you want to find a ruler and measure the bleeding neck laceration?

Trick of the trade

Use your “handy” ruler

Measure parts of your hand. You now have a reasonably accurate ruler with you at all times (hopefully). For me, I know that my left hand can only reach a maximum of 20 cm. The width of my left palm is 8 cm. And my pinky DIP is 1 cm wide.


Using these landmarks, I estimated the neck laceration above as 1 palm + 3 pinkies = 8 cm + 3 cm = 11 cm.

Thanks to Sandi Ma, my Visual Aid Project photographer, who consented the patient and captured the top picture.

Author information

Michelle Lin, MD

ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco

The post Trick of the Trade: A "handy" ruler appeared first on ALiEM.

Leave a Comment

Like articles like this one?

Join our Email List and get the latest TCCC/TECC/TEMS news bulletins, articles, product releases, and more!

Free Delivery

On all orders over $99 within CONUS and to APO/FPO

Easy Returns

We're here to help! Satisfaction Guaranteed

Knowledgeable Staff

Ready to assist you at a moment's notice

Safe& Secure Checkout

World’s most advanced and secure website encryption.