How to Prevent Bedsores (Pressure Sores)

Updated on October 24, 2018
Isabel Melville profile image

A practicing nurse, Isabel has been an online writer for over seven years. Her articles focus primarily on medical issues.


Having been a nurse for many years, I saw many people develop pressure sores (also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers). This was not going to happen under my care! When I was nursing, it really was the worst thing to find someone with bed sores, because it meant someone wasn't doing their job properly. Among nurses, someone developing a bed sore on your shift meant it was your responsibility, and your fault.

Let's say you worked on Ward 11 and someone from Ward 10 was transferred to your ward and you saw that they had pressure sores, this would cause everyone from Ward 10 to be looked down upon and ostracised for allowing someone to develop them.

It is of vital importance that someone who is bed-bound in your care does not develop bedsores. Learning how to prevent pressure sores is one of the first things a nurse learns.

Questions This Article Will Answer

  1. How do you prevent bedsores?
  2. How often should someone be turned to avoid bedsores?
  3. What are bedsores?
  4. How does someone get bedsores?

1. How do you prevent bedsores?

It's actually very simple. Every nurse should be able to perform these steps without any problems. Knowing how to prevent pressure sores is not rocket science.

To prevent bedsores:

  • Turn the patient regularly.
  • After changing their position, use some oil or talc to gently rub the area they were lying.

Anyone at all who is bedridden and cannot move from their position, needs to be turned regularly by someone else. If you are a nurse or a care helper, you should have been taught how to turn someone so that they change position, allowing their blood flow to move once again, instead of being coagulated somewhere in the body.

It also helps if you use some oil or talc to gently rub the area they were lying as after you have changed their position. We used to use a mixture of oil and alcohol that we kept in a plastic bottle just for this. We have to shake it to mix the two, then apply a little to the hand, before gently spending a few seconds massaging the pressure point area. The alcohol was supposed to toughen the skin up a bit, and the oil was the make it easier to rub on without damaging the tender skin cells.

It wasn't motor oil! It was something like vegetable oil that you might have used for cooking.

2. How often should someone be turned?

You could start off with a turn every four hours. This is day and night, so if you are nursing someone at home, you will need to set your alarm clock for the nighttime turns. If you see the patient's skin turning red at this frequency, you may want to change that to a turn every two hours. (This may seem like a lot of work, but prevention is better than cure!)

Once the skin starts to break down at the start of a pressure sore, it is much harder to fix. You may then have to go on to hourly turns, or even half hourly, with massages to the area each time.

Once sores have taken a hold, the patient will need antibiotics and all sorts of medications to prevent or heal infections. Now you see why we nurses do not want to see pressure sores developing, and how it is of vital importance that we learn how to prevent bedsores.

3. What are bed sores?

Bed sores start off as red pressure areas. Left untreated, the skin breaks down and starts weeping. Ignored further, they start bleeding.

Left untreated for longer periods, they turn into holes that are red, hot, painful and an easy route for infection to appear. When necrosis sets in, the edges of the wound turns black and start to smell. If ignored further, then the life of the patient is at risk.

4. How does someone get bedsores?

Anyone who is semi-conscious, or unable to move due to illness, accident, or old age, is at risk of developing pressure sores. When you are lying prone in a bed, the blood doesn't circulate in the same way as it would if you were up and about. Lying, not moving for any period of time slows your natural blood flow down.

You know if you have been sitting at a computer, for example, for hours, your behoochie begins to ache. (That is why I don't like those long movies they show at cinemas. There is not a lot of room to move around and after a while your bum gets sore).

Imagine if you were bedridden, not for a couple of hours, but for days or weeks at a time. I know we all spend hours asleep in bed each day, but we naturally change position from time to time without even wakening up.

This is our body's natural reaction. It stops us from becoming sore (like you can do at a cinema).

Many people who are ill cannot move; they cannot turn in their sleep. The parts of the body that constantly touch the bottom bed sheet would be the heels, hips, sacrum, and elbows. Seldom do pressure sores develop on the head and shoulders. This is because they are near the heart and get a better blood supply.

What are you telling me for? That's a nurses job.

You simply never know when you might have someone in your home who is bedridden. Your elderly mother, perhaps? Your teenage son? Not every condition will put you in a hospital where there are nurses to look after you 24 hours a day. Bed sores can happen to everyone, and the chances are that more people develop them at home than elsewhere, like in a hospital or nursing home. That's why it's so important to know what to look for and to know what to do to prevent bedsores from developing.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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