List of Operating Room Instruments


Hundreds of different types of instruments are used in the surgical operating room. Some standard instruments are used for most surgeries; others are specialized for specific surgery types. Each instrument is assigned a name by the manufacturer so that it can be easily distinguished. A general instrument tray contains all of the following categories.


  • A clamp is used on vessels to stop bleeding. Many sizes and types are available. In a general surgical tray, the clamps are used for small vessels. Larger vessels require specialized clamps that will not crush the artery or vein. Clamps are also known as hemostats.


  • Retractors hold organs and tissue away from the surgical site so that the surgeon can see clearly and have room to operate. A general surgical tray will have about seven different sizes and types of retractors. Some retractors are self-retaining, or hands-free. These retractors can lock into position so that the surgeon and assistant have their hands free to work.


  • This instrument looks like tweezers, and is used to grasp tissue for suturing or to hold it out of the way. There are many versions and sizes used in all types of surgery. Some of the "holding" forceps look more like a clamp, but have a shape at the end that can grasp tissue or small vessels.


  • Scissors are used to cut delicate tissue, muscle, vessels, wire and suture. Knife handles fitted with differently sized razors for incisions are called scalpels. Other instruments may be used to cut bone, including hand saws and power tools.

Needle Holders

  • These instruments are used to hold the needles to which sutures are attached. They range from 24 inches to just a couple of inches in length, depending on the type of surgery for which they're needed.


Specialized Instruments

  • Each surgical specialty has instruments that are made specifically for their type of service. Orthopedic or bone surgery requires hand tools like saws, screwdrivers, chisels, mallets and gouges. Micro-surgical instruments are used in eye, ear, nose and throat, neurosurgery, and vascular surgery. Fiberoptic instruments (for example, scopes used in the body) are found in some specialized trays. Dilating instruments, used to enlarge openings of the body, are found in gynecology and urology services.

    Each service has its own surgery tray that in some cases mixes with general instruments. Instruments not used as often are sterilized separately from those frequently used. Special equipment such as air compressors for running power tools and microscopes are not sterilized; these are kept in a surgical suite used for that service.

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  • Surgical Instrument Pictures
  • Alexander's Care of the Patient in Surgery, Sixth edition Marie J. Rhodes, R.N., B.S.N Barbara J. Gruendemann, R.N., B.S., M.S. Walter F. Ballinger, M.D. The C.V. Mosby Company
  • Photo Credit surgical image by JASON WINTER from hemostats and clamps image by Albert Lozano from cervical cancer image by Keith Frith from scalpel15 image by Andrew Buckin from
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