Pressure Sores | Treatment

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How are pressure sores treated?

There are several things you can do to help pressure sores heal:

  • Relieving the pressure that caused the sore
  • Treating the sore itself
  • Improving nutrition and other conditions to help the sore heal

What can be done to reduce pressure on the sore?

Don't lie on pressure sores. Use foam pads or pillows to take pressure off the sore. Special mattresses, mattress covers, foam wedges or seat cushions can help support you in bed or in a chair to reduce or relieve pressure. Try to avoid resting directly on your hip bone when you're lying on your side. Use pillows under one side so that your weight rests on the fleshy part of your buttock instead of on your hip bone. Also, use pillows to keep your knees and ankles apart. When lying on your back, place a pillow under your lower calves to lift your ankles slightly off the bed. When lying in bed, change your position at least every 2 hours.

When sitting in a chair or wheelchair, sit upright and straight. An upright, straight position will allow you to move more easily and help prevent new sores. You should change positions every 15 minutes when sitting in a chair or wheelchair. If you cannot move by yourself, have your caregiver help you shift your position.

How should the pressure sore be kept clean?

In order to heal, pressure sores must be kept clean and free of dead tissue. Stage 1 sores can be cleaned with mild soap and water. You can clean stage 3 sores by rinsing the area with a salt and water solution. The saltwater removes extra fluid and loose material. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to clean your pressure sore.

Pressure sores should be kept covered with a bandage or dressing. Sometimes gauze is used. The gauze is kept moist and must be changed at least once a day. Newer kinds of dressings include a see-through film and a hydrocolloid dressing. A hydrocolloid dressing is a bandage made of a gel that molds to the pressure sore and helps promote healing and skin growth. These dressings can stay on for several days at a time.

Dead tissue (which may look like a scab) in the sore can interfere with healing and lead to infection. There are many ways to remove dead tissue from the pressure sore. Rinsing the sore every time you change the bandage is helpful. Special dressings that help your body dissolve the dead tissue can also be used. They are left in place for several days.

Another way to remove dead tissue is to put wet gauze bandages on the sore and allow them to dry. The dead tissue sticks to the gauze and is removed when the gauze is pulled off. For more severe pressure sores, dead tissue must be removed surgically.

Removing dead tissue and cleaning the sore can hurt. Your doctor can suggest a pain reliever for you to take 30 to 60 minutes before your dressing is changed to help reduce pain.

Why is good nutrition important for healing sores?

Good nutrition is important because it helps your body heal the sore. If you don't get enough calories, protein and other nutrients (especially vitamin C and zinc, which can help heal wounds like pressure sores), your body won't be able to heal, no matter how well you care for the pressure sore. Your doctor, nurse or a dietitian can give you advice about a healthy diet. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have lost or gained weight recently.

How can I tell if the sore is getting better?

As a pressure sore heals, it slowly gets smaller. Less fluid drains from it. New, healthy tissue starts growing at the bottom of the sore. This new tissue is light red or pink and looks lumpy and shiny. It may take 2 to 4 weeks of treatment before you see these signs of healing.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/12
Created: 09/00

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