You know that urge you get to shift in your chair? It happens countless times throughout the day, and you might not even be aware of it. These small movements serve a very important purpose: they help prevent injury.
This quickly becomes apparent for those who have difficulty moving or don’t feel the slight discomfort that triggers movement. These individuals are prone to develop pressure injuries, sometimes referred to as bed sores.
Signs of pressure injuries include redness of the skin, warm areas, spongy or hard skin, and a breakdown of the top layers of skin. Some parts of the body that are prone to pressure injuries are the knees, heels/ankles, hips, spine, tailbone, elbows, shoulders/shoulder blades, back of the head and even the ears.
Amanda Roy, a certified wound and ostomy nurse at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center, is an expert in pressure injuries. After graduating from nursing school, she found she especially enjoyed helping patients heal from wounds. Amanda quickly became the only inpatient wound care nurse of a 160-bed hospital. There she educated other nurses about preventing pressure injuries and recognizing the warning signs.
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree and certification in wound care, Amanda began helping patients in the outpatient setting. This offers her the chance to work with them much longer.
“I could see the patient and follow them for weeks or months until they were completely healed,” Amanda says.
Each time that happened, staff would ring a big bell and cheer for the patient. Healing was more than a success — it was a victory to be celebrated.
Preventing pressure injuries
While healing is wonderful, prevention is even better. An important part of Amanda’s job is educating patients and their caregivers on how to prevent pressure injuries from developing at home.
“The biggest risk factor for pressure injuries is immobility,” Amanda explains.
Patients with limited mobility, especially people who are bedridden or in wheelchairs, are more likely to stay in the same position for long periods of time. In addition, they often have medical issues that prevent them from feeling the discomfort that warns of a pressure injury developing. They may also have problems communicating their needs. Thus, it’s important for family caregivers to be vigilant.
Here are Amanda’s top recommendations for protecting against pressure injuries.
- If possible, get up and walk around at least every couple of hours. Alternatively, shift pressure every 15 to 30 minutes. This can be as simple as standing up and sitting down.
- Keep skin clean and dry. Use products that are designed to clean gently without drying out the skin, such as baby products.
- “You cannot heal it if you can’t take pressure off it,” says Amanda. If a problem begins to develop, be sure to protect the affected area. For example, if the back of the heel hurts, put a pillow under the legs (not under the heels).
If you or a loved one has mobility problems or numbness, talk to a health care provider about how to prevent pressure injuries and identify signs of trouble.