Spinal Cord Injuries and Pressure Sores

Overview

Bedsores, also called pressure ulcers, are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue that are caused by prolonged pressure on the skin and a subsequent loss of blood flow to the area. According to the Mayo Clinic, people most at risk of bedsores are those with a medical condition that limits their ability to change positions or those who spend most of their time in a bed or chair. People with a spinal cord injury often fall into both of these categories.

Bedsores usually develop on areas of the skin that cover bony body parts like the heels, ankles, hips and tailbone. It is important to be vigilant with the prevention of bedsores, as they can develop quickly. While most sores will heal with treatment, some may never heal completely.

For SCI patients who use a wheelchair, pressure sores most often occur on the skin at the tailbone or buttocks, shoulder blades, spine, and the backs of arms and legs.

Pressure Sore Symptoms

To best prevent the occurrence of pressure sores after a spinal cord injury, it is important to be aware of the potential warning signs of a pressure sore. According to the Mayo Clinic, the typical warning signs of pressure sores are:

Unusual changes in skin color or texture
Swelling
Pus-like drainage
A specific area of skin that feels cooler or warmer to the touch than other areas
Tender, painful areas

If not treated in a timely manner, pressure sores can become serious and complicated, and may involve injuries to muscle and even bone. If you suspect the onset of a pressure sore, relieve pressure on the area immediately by changing position. If the area does not improve within 1-2 days, contact your doctor.

Prevention

Bedsores can be prevented with proper diligence. Frequently repositioning the body, especially at sites in contact with a wheelchair, can help to prevent any prolonged stress to sensitive regions of the body. Additional proactive strategies for bedsore prevention include a careful skin cleansing regimen, a healthy balanced diet, regular hydration, regular exercise, and abstention from cigarette smoking. (Mayo, 2018)

Tips for Skin Care to Prevent Bed Sores

Keep skin clean and dry. Wash skin regularly with a gentle cleanser and pat dry.
Protect the skin by applying lotion to dry skin. Change bedding and clothing frequently and be on the lookout for buttons on clothing or wrinkles in bedding that could irritate the skin.
Inspect skin at least once daily to check for any warning signs of a pressure sore.

Treatment

Do not attempt to treat a pressure sore without seeking a doctor’s treatment and recommendation. Diagnosing the severity of the bed sore will assist with the doctor’s prescribed follow up treatment. Serious cases of bed sores may require surgery.

References

Mayo, 2018. Bedsores (pressure ulcers). Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bed-sores/symptoms-causes/syc-20355893 [Accessed September 27, 2018].