8 Tips for Preventing Pressure Sores for People Who Use Wheelchairs | GlideWear

8 Tips for Preventing Pressure Sores

If you’re a person who uses a wheelchair and you’ve experienced pressure sores (aka decubitus ulcers, bed sores, or pressure ulcers), these tips are for you.

1. Shift Your Weight

If you have 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 way back. Repeat these movement 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 because 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 spouse to check your skin for you. Pay special attention to bony areas that are susceptible to pressure sores from sitting in a wheelchair, including 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. If you see any spots that are turning colors (red, purple, blue), swelling, or look callused or cracked, take action. Notify your healthcare provider immediately and keep a very close eye on those spots.

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 proactively to protect yourself. For example, you can use a pressure-reducing wheelchair cushion. And wearing specialized clothes like GlideWear Men’s Skin Protection Underwear or GlideWear Women’s Skin Protection GlideWear Shorts, will protect your skin from friction and shear — which contribute to pressure sores — and give you peace of mind. Your skin does not fully recover after a pressure injury, so prevention is best.

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4. Manage Your Microclimate

Microclimate is a combination of heat and moisture. The hotter and moister your skin is, the more susceptible it is to redness, breakdown, and pressure sores. Moisture can weaken the skin, making it more susceptible to bedsores. 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. 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 like GlideFree can reduce friction during transfers. A shear injury (where the outside layers of your skin are pulled one direction and internal layers of your tissue are pulled in the opposite direction) can happen in a moment.

6. Eat Well & Stay Hydrated

A balanced diet can lead to overall better health and more resilience from 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

Any time you’re going to be sitting in a plane or car for long periods of time, it’s important to 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.

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 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. Avoid wearing clothing that might wrinkle under your body. If your healthcare practitioner recommends it, use positioning wedges.

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Questions? Our Clinical Team is Here to Help.

Call 763-795-0057 to speak with a clinical educator or customer service specialist.

Mark Payette, CO, ATP

Mark is a certified orthotist with more than 25 years of patient care experience, specializing in custom orthotic wheelchair seating. Providing these services was a joy and passion for Mark. He has been with Tamarack since its inception, except for the 4 year time period that Tamarack clinical services was owned by a large local hospital corporation. Mark has since returned to Tamarack and, while missing direct client services, now enjoys the opportunity and challenges of new product development.

Caroline Portoghese, OTR/L, ATP/SMS

With over 20 years of clinical experience, Caroline has credentials as an occupational therapist and nursing home administrator from the University of Minnesota. Caroline has specialty credentials as an Assistive Technology Professional, Seating Mobility Specialist, and MS Clinical Specialist. Caroline is a graduate of Macalester Collage, and she recently obtained her MBA from Saint Catherine University. She initially worked as a custom seating practitioner at Tamarack starting in 1998, and re-joined Tamarack in 2017. Caroline is excited to focus on clinical service and education with a research and development focus.

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