Spending long periods of time sitting in the same position can lead to pressure sores. Using appropriate cushioning guards against the condition. Elderly people or those in rehab from illness or injury often have to spend much of their time in bed. In some cases, patients may be unable to get out of bed at all.
Those with paralysis in all or some parts of the body are especially at risk of pressure-point related injuries.
People with other disabilities may also be in a position where they need to sit down, possibly in a wheelchair, for much of the time. This may result in localised skin and soft tissue damage, usually where there is a bony part of the body. Areas at risk include the elbows, heels and bottom of the spine.
The skin damage, also known as pressure ulcers or bed sores, can take time to develop, but in some cases may form in a matter of hours. They result when there is consistent weight on a particular point of the body. Old people whose skin is fragile, may find they develop very easily. This often leads to pain and blood discharge from the sore.
Patients with reduced sensitivity may develop pressure sores without feeling any initial pain. These may include those on certain drugs.
If left untreated, these sores risk infection, leading to serious medical problems. It is therefore important to take steps to manage the issue.
The effect of standard bedclothes is usually inadequate. Nurses suggest using pressure cushions to relieve friction on the sites of the ulcers. Fleece padding can also be effective when applied to affected areas. Natural fleece or man-made varieties do a similar job.
Pads which attach using Velcro are available for specific parts of the body. Heel pads and elbow pads are popular. These are pieces of fleece or cotton with gel padding. Fleeces can make a difference, but frequently even these are not enough.
For sitting in armchairs or even when sitting up in bed, using a pressure relief cushion which actively guards against sores developing, could be the answer. They provide a soft barrier which reduces friction on the body.
Foam, Gel and Air-Filled Cushions
Various types of foam cushion are available, some with ‘memory’ properties which mould to the contours of the body. This often helps short-term comfort but can lead patients to ‘fix’ their position. Some foam cushions have a ‘nodular’ construction, allowing air to flow through the cushion, reducing heat and patient discomfort.
Gel-filled cushions are another popular choice. These disperse weight, increasing comfort and spreading the point of pressure. As with the foam filled models, many gel pressure cushions are nodular in their design, allowing as much air-flow as possible. This has the effect of keeping the patient cool.
Air-filled cushions can also be effective in some cases. These require inflation before use, and again are usually of a nodular design. These models are vulnerable to puncture, so it is crucial to take care of sharp objects when using them.
In addition to seat or chair cushions, various designs are also available as mattresses or mattress toppers. These are for patients who lie in bed without moving for long periods.
A wheelchair user will frequently need a pressure relief cushion. Being in a ‘fixed’ position in the chair, they are vulnerable to ulcers developing. Cushions are available in numerous sizes and depths in order to fit the user's chair.
Nurses stress that it is vital to spot the chance of a pressure sore before it develops. Once there, bandages and dressings can be difficult to replace, so the target is to avoid the sore in the first place.
There are four grades, or ‘stages’ of bed sores. Pressure cushions all come with advice to let you know which grade they are suitable for. Ideally, a doctor or nurse who has examined you first-hand should tell you which one to use.