Pressure sores, also known as pressure ulcers or bedsores, are caused by your skin and soft tissue rubbing against any surface continuously. When you put pressure on the skin, blood flow to that area is restricted, resulting in the skin and tissue dying. You can control these symptoms by using the right wheelchair cushion when you sit for long periods. 

In 2015, there were about 2.7 million wheelchair users in the United States, and the numbers would have increased as the U.S. is one of the largest markets for wheeled mobility.

If you are a wheelchair user, you need to watch out for signs of pressure sores. 

The signs include:

  • Redness in affected skin
  • Tough or spongy skin
  • Top layers of the affected skin or sore breaking down

Treating your skin gently may help prevent pressure sores. Follow these simple rules to avoid pressure sores:

  • Use mild soap and sponge or soft cloth when washing the skin, no hard scrubbing.
  • Apply protective moisturizing cream or lotion on the affected areas daily.
  • Avoid using talcum powder or strong soaps on the affected areas.
  • Washing the skin frequently causes it to turn dry
  • Remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water all through the day

Precautions for Wheelchair Users

The first thing you must remember is to select a wheelchair of the correct size. A wheelchair that’s either too large or too small can only aggravate the situation. You need to have the fit of the wheelchair checked by a professional like your physical therapist or doctor regularly. If the wheelchair doesn’t fit, you may have to have it altered (minor alterations) or replaced.  

Take care not to gain weight if you do, however, find out from your physical therapist if you can still use the same wheelchair. You have only two options, either lose the excess weight or replace the wheelchair. If you feel extra pressure while sitting in the wheelchair, have it checked by your physical therapist or doctor. 

The Cushion Makes a Difference

Your wheelchair cushion material makes a lot of difference. Have a gel or foam seat cushion fitted on your wheelchair. Natural leather is probably the best alternative, preferably sheepskin pads, which are very skin-friendly as they absorb part of the pressure on your skin. However, avoid donut-shaped cushions as they restrict blood flow and cause swelling in the tissue. Using a donut-shaped cushion increases the risk of getting pressure sores. 

Shifting Weight Reduces Pressure

It would help if you shifted your weight while sitting in your wheelchair. If you can’t manage to move by yourself, you may ask your caregiver to help you shift your weight every few minutes (15 to 20 minutes). Shifting your weight often helps relieve pressure in the affected areas and enhances the blood supply to the area. 

If you don’t have a caregiver, you may try leaning forward now and then. You can also lean to both sides alternatively, which helps relieve the pressure. Avoid dragging yourself off or on to your wheelchair, as the friction aggravates a pressure sore. Try lifting your body using your arms. If you can’t manage it, ask your physical therapist to help you train yourself to ease yourself off your wheelchair without straining too much. 

When You Retire to your Bed

Wheelchair users who retire to their bed may have the same pressure sore issues while sleeping. Hence, use a gel or foam mattress or a waterbed.  Ensure the skin on your bottom remains dry at all times. While getting into your bed or getting out of it, avoid dragging that aggravates the pressure sores. If you need help, please ask for it.