5 Different types of surgical retractors and their uses

Surgical retractors stand as vital instruments in the realm of surgery, enhancing visualization and elevating both efficiency and safety in procedures. With a diverse array of types tailored to specific surgical requirements, these retractors play pivotal roles across various medical disciplines. This article will explore the myriad types of surgical retractors, shedding light on their functions and contributions across different medical specialties.

Hand-held Retractor

Handheld retractors are the most basic form of retractor and the most common type of surgical retractor used in surgery. During the operation, an assistant or nurse needs to hold the operation and retract the surgical tissue to provide the surgeon with a good surgical field of view. They come in different shapes and sizes, tailored to the type of surgery being performed.

  1. Hooks and Forks: These are simple retractors, such as Army Navy or Senn retractors, designed to pull back small amounts of tissue. They typically have single-ended or double-ended construction with sharp or blunt prongs.
  2. Blade retractors: Blade retractors, such as Balfour and Richardson, have a flat surface and are used to retract tissue over a larger surface. They can be straight, curved, or angled, depending on surgical requirements.

Self-fixating retractors are designed to self-fix tissue after placement, freeing the hands of the surgical team. Simply place the retraction loop around the surgical site and place the hooks into the tissue, adjusting the tension as needed. The shrink ring distributes force evenly for optimal shrinkage. While the retractor remains in place, a consistent tension is maintained by suturing the tissue.

  1. Ratchet mechanism: Devices such as the Gelpi and Weitlaner retractors have a ratchet mechanism that locks the retractor in place. They are commonly used in orthopedic and spinal surgeries.
  2. Loop and frame retractors: These retractors, such as the Chamfond self-retaining retractor and Thompson retractor, provide a frame around the surgical site. They often come with interchangeable blades or hooks to accommodate a variety of procedures.
Loop and frame retractors

Minimally Invasive Retractor

With the rise of minimally invasive surgical techniques, minimally invasive retractors are becoming more and more important. These retractors are designed to facilitate access to the surgical site through small incisions while minimizing tissue trauma. Examples of minimally invasive retractors include laparoscopic and endoscopic retractors, such as the Nathanson Liver Retractor and EndoGrab Retractor, which allow for precise and controlled tissue manipulation during minimally invasive surgery.

Deep Tissue Retractor

Deep tissue retractors are specifically designed for procedures requiring deep tissue or organ retraction. These retractors feature long, narrow blades or prongs that can reach into deep anatomical spaces to adequately expose the surgical site. Examples of deep tissue retractors include Farabeuf retractors, Beckman-Weitlaner retractors, and Army-Navy retractors, commonly used in orthopedic, neurosurgical, and cardiovascular procedures.

Special Retractor

Certain retractors are designed for specific types of surgeries, reflecting the unique requirements of those surgeries.

  1. Abdominal Retractors: Systems like the Bookwalter and Omni-Tract retractors offer expansive exposure for abdominal surgeries. Known for their modularity, they can be tailored to fit the surgical site precisely.
  2. Thoracic Retractor: The Finochietto retractor is a specialized rib expansion device crafted for thoracic surgery, ensuring optimal access to the thoracic cavity.
  3. Nerve Root Retractors: Delicate retractors such as the Love Nerve Root Retractor find application in neurosurgery, facilitating gentle manipulation of nerve roots to minimize damage.


Surgical retractors are indispensable tools for the success of various surgeries. Understanding the different types and their specific uses can help select the right retractor for the right procedure, ultimately improving patient outcomes. Whether it’s delicate neurosurgery or major abdominal surgery, the right retractor can provide the exposure and stability necessary to allow the surgeon to perform at their best.


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