If you’re a wheelchair user who has experienced pressure sores (aka decubitus ulcers, bed sores, or pressure ulcers), these tips are for you!
Many wheelchair users believe that getting pressure sores is part of everyday life. This is not necessarily the case. Pressure sores can be prevented! Just follow our tips…
1. Shift your weight
If you have the use of your arms, shift your weight off your tailbone area and sitting bones by gripping your wheelchair armrests and lifting your rear end off the seat of your wheelchair. You can also try different positions that are easier on your shoulders – like leaning forward onto your thighs or tilting backwards. Repeat these movements every 45 minutes throughout the day. If shifting your position is difficult to do on your own, be sure your caregiver knows how to support you. Note: Avoid just “wiggling around” in your chair – that can increase friction and shear, which can put your skin at greater risk for pressure sores.
2. Inspect your skin
It’s essential to inspect your skin every day. If you can, use a mirror and check your skin yourself. If you can’t get the right angle, ask a caregiver or family member to check it for you. Pay special attention to bony areas that are susceptible to pressure sores, such as the tailbone area, your ischial tuberosities (near the crease where your rear end meets your thighs), your greater trochanters (where your femur attaches to your pelvis), and your heels and ankles.
3. Give yourself peace of mind
Pressure sores are caused by pressure, friction, shear and microclimate (heat and moisture). It’s not possible to avoid those factors completely, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. For example, you can use a pressure-reducing wheelchair cushion. Wearing specialised clothes (such as those in the GlideWear range) will protect your skin from friction and shear.
4. Manage your microclimate
Microclimate is a combination of heat and moisture. The hotter and moister your skin, the more susceptible it is to redness, breakdown and pressure sores. Moisture can weaken the skin, making it more susceptible to sores. Keep your skin clean and dry by wearing breathable undergarments and pants, and by choosing a breathable wheelchair cushion or cushion cover.
5. Pay extra attention during transfers
Transfers can be hard on your skin, whether or not you use a transfer board. Train yourself to be aware of the way your body moves across a surface or comes into contact with a chair, car seat, shower seat, toilet, etc. Adding a low-friction transfer board tape can reduce friction during transfers.
6. Eat well and stay hydrated
A balanced diet can lead to overall better health and more resilience to counter problems like pressure sores. Vitamin C contributes to wound healing, and protein helps your body generate new tissue. Drinking water throughout the day is essential – dehydrated skin is less resilient and more susceptible to breakdown and pressure sores.
7. Change positions when you travel
Whenever you have to sit in a plane or car for long periods of time, you should shift your weight and change positions (like you do when you’re in your wheelchair), and check your skin more frequently. When you’re in a different environment, it’s easy to get out of the habit of regular checks.
8. Be proactive at night
Making sure your skin is protected at night is essential. People who have limited or no sensation are at increased risk for developing pressure sores in bed. When possible, sleep on a flat surface (without the head of the bed being elevated). If you raise the head of the bed, you can reduce dangerous shear forces on your body by raising your knees at the same time. Even if you are not sliding down on the bed, or moving at all, there are often very high shear forces on your sacrum area, on your lower back and rear end if the head of the bed is raised. Change positions every two hours.
Article supplied by Tamarack, the manufacturer of GlideWear products, which help amputees, wheelchair users, and people with limited mobility reduce the friction and shear that cause diabetic foot ulcers, painful wounds, pressure ulcers and bed sores.