Commonly, the way patients expect surgical operations to progress include the use of sharp edged tools by the surgeon to cut tissue open. Blunt dissection, which involves separating tissues with blunt objects such as the fingers or closed scissor tips, is a technique that is also used in surgery. Types of surgery that may involve blunt dissection range from simple skin wart removal to the insertion of a chest drainage tube. This form of dissection can be less damaging than sharp objects in dealing with parts of the body that need to stay intact.
Scalpels and scissors are examples of the tools that produce a sharp dissection of tissue. These tools typically make a crisp incision across a variety of tissues, from skin to brain tissue. In comparison, blunt dissection tools do not cut, but rather, separate tissue. Fingers are the simplest of dissection tools, and the surgeon has the advantage of being able to feel exactly what he or she is doing. Although some tools may be specifically designed for blunt dissection uses, such as grasping instruments, surgeons may also find blunt dissection uses for instruments that also have the capability to be used for sharp dissection.
For example, if a surgeon has access to sharp scissors, they may be used to slice open tissue, or the surgeon can close them up and use the tips as a blunt dissector. The "wrong" end of other tools, such as a cannula or spatula, can also be used to perform blunt dissections. This is practical because the surgeon does not have to remove hands from the incision to change the dissection technique.
Sharp dissection tools tend to be sharp enough to cut through nearly all tissues. In contrast, blunt dissection tools tend to open up the path of least resistance. This may be an advantage when it comes to surgeries such as wart removal, where the abnormal tissue has a different structure than the healthy tissue underneath, and wielding blunt dissection tools can separate off the abnormal tissue without damaging the normal skin underneath. The sharpness of scalpels and scissors also poses risks of accidental incisions, whereas blunt dissectors have less risk of this.
Often, the path of least resistance is the direction in which tissue naturally grows. For example, muscle fibers run parallel to each other in bundles. A blunt separation of the fibers may be less damaging than a sharp incision. This technique may be used to open up the chest so a patient can have a chest drainage tube inserted.