What are Adson Forceps?

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  • Written By: Mary Ruff-King
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2016
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Adson forceps are stainless steel tweezers used to move and hold tissue in place during delicate surgical procedures. These surgical tools, also called thumb forceps, are used by manually holding them between the thumb, index finger and middle finger of the dominant hand and squeezing down to grasp, hold and move tissue into place. Adson tissue forceps are used for medical, dental and veterinarian surgeries to maintain sterile technique and to minimize tissue damage. After an operation, Adson dressing forceps can be used to remove sutures, dressings and ancillary surgical tubing. Both types of Adson forceps can be sterilized in an autoclave so that they can be reused.

Adson tissue forceps comes in a wide variety of tip configurations. A pair of 1x2 Adson forceps has two fine teeth on the inner portion of one tip, and on the inner portion of the opposing tip is one fine tooth that interlocks between the other two teeth when the tool is clamped together. These are commonly called rat-tooth tissue forceps, because of their appearance. This tool is used primarily to secure tissue without the worry of slippage. In oral surgery, Adson tissue forceps are used to grasp loose, excised tissue as well as to manage placement of oral tissue while it is being sutured.


Other types of Adson forceps have fine, serrated teeth on the edges of both inner tips. Unlike rat-tooth forceps, these forceps do not bite and hold the tissue. They are used to manipulate very delicate tissues while minimizing the trauma involved with the manipulation and/or movement.

Adson dressing forceps are used to remove dressings and sutures. They might have a scissors-type handle grip with a curved or straight tip that gives the surgeon more flexibility and dexterity as well as the ability to apply more force if needed. Adson dressing forceps also can be used to move or remove drainage tubes while still maintaining the sterile field.

In medicine, surgical tools, procedures, diseases and syndromes are often named after the doctor or doctors who invent or discover them. Such is the case with the Adson forceps, which are named after Alfred Washington Adson, M.D., a renowned pioneer in neurosurgery who solidified his place in medical history while working at the Mayo Clinic from 1914 to 1946. He invented the Adson forceps as well as the Adson retractor. The Adson’s test, a test for thoracic outlet syndrome, is also named after him.


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Post 5

I know a vet tech who is using them to feed a fledgling. Never heard of them before, so I googled the term and landed here.

Post 4

I am studying veterinary science and cannot find on any websites the difference in adson tissue forceps and rat tooth thumb forceps.

Post 3

When I had my stitches removed, the doctor used a pair of the dressing forceps to pull away the gauze so that she could gently remove it without touching the wound.

Post 2

Is there any difference between forceps and tweezers? I have always called things like this tweezers. Is forceps just the proper medical term for tweezers?

Post 1

I always find it amazing how specialized medical equipment has become. There seem to be very few multipurpose tools, now.

We used to have a pair of Adson forceps lying around the house. Ours were the rat tooth kind with the interlocking teeth. I was never quite sure what someone would have used them for, but now I know. I always used them for grabbing thread as it came through the eye of a needle. I'm curious whether there are any more household uses for a pair of these.

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