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Occupational Therapists Study Ways to Prevent Pressure Sores

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    Occupational Therapists Study Ways to Prevent Pressure Sores

    Source: American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Released: Mon 18-Oct-2004, 11:40 ET

    Occupational Therapists Study Ways to Prevent Pressure Sores
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    Actor Christopher Reeve died from a heart attack caused by a pressure sore. Most people were shocked to learn of the deadly turn this benign sounding ailment took, but such infections are common occurrences for people with spinal cord injuries.

    Newswise - Last week, actor Christopher Reeve died from a heart attack, brought on by an infection that originated from a pressure sore. Most people were shocked to learn of the deadly turn such a benign sounding ailment can take, but pressure sores and infection from pressure sores can be common occurrences for people with spinal cord injuries.

    Pressure sores are skin wounds resulting from unrelieved pressure which prevents blood from reaching vulnerable parts of the body, mainly bony spots in weight-bearing areas, such as the buttocks or heel. If the area of pressure is not relieved, the skin tissue can become infected and die. When dead tissue breaks down, the open wound that is created can be quite deep, sometimes going through all layers of skin to the underlying bone. Such dead tissue often becomes infected, and surgery is required to discharge it.

    The Problem: Today there are nearly 300,000 Americans with spinal cord injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US spends $1.2 billion to treat pressure sores that occur in people with such injuries, and despite current patient education efforts to periodically relieve pressure on vulnerable areas, the problem is getting worse. Patient education focuses on issues such as encouraging frequent changing of positions and switching from a wheelchair to a bed during the day. In 2003, one-third of people with spinal cord injuries developed pressure sores, compared with 23% in 1990. Septicemia, the kind of systemic infection that can be caused by a pressure wound, is currently ranked as the third leading cause of death for people with spinal cord injuries.

    One factor in the health risk is the stigma associated with the condition. People are embarrassed to admit they have pressure sores, and wait to seek help until absolutely necessary. Another factor is that despite one's best efforts at prevention, pressure sores can sometimes be unpreventable, especially for individuals who use wheelchairs or lie in bed for prolonged periods.

    Occupational Therapy Researchers Offer Hope:
    However, there is hope, according to researchers from the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California, and the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

    Although not all pressure wounds are avoidable, researchers found that many are, and the soon-to-be-released research points the way to increasing prevention through lifestyle trade-offs that strike a balance between work, play, and rest.

    "For some people with spinal cord injuries, as for all Americans, there is tension between health verses productivity," said USC's Dr. Jeanne Jackson, co-primary investigator on the study. "A person can become committed to causes or work, and lose sight of the impact of simple daily activities of life on their health."

    It is a recurring problem that individuals who might be at high risk for pressure sores do not disrupt their daily work or leisure-time routines to lessen the chance of getting a pressure sore.

    "Our study suggests that individuals can reduce the number and severity of pressure wounds by creating a lifestyle based on day-to-day, moment-to-moment decision making about what will promote health, and what will represent an unnecessary risk to health," said Dr. Florence Clark, a well-known scholar in the field of occupational therapy and wellness, and the study's other co-primary investigator from USC.

    Researchers from Rancho Los Amigos are Dr. Salah Rubayi, Dr. Michael Scott, Kathy Gross, Michel Atkin, and Rod Adkins.

    Experts recommend the following steps to pressure sore prevention:

    1. Check your entire body daily for any skin irritations or red patches, especially areas where bones come into contact with surfaces, such as the buttocks, and heels.

    2. Work with an occupational therapist on a plan that balances work, play, and rest, and addresses how to best manage that balance if a sore should emerge.

    3. Relieve pressure by changing position every hour.

    4. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Get enough rest.

    5. One of the biggest stresses we put on our bodies is employment. Be sure to consider the entire impact of employment as you assess your condition.

    6. If a red patch is identified, notify your physician immediately.

    7. Early detection is the best tool to limit the damaging effects of pressure sores. Once medical treatment has begun, individuals are advised to take time off to rest in bed, and keep all pressure off the area of the wound.

    The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, will be the basis for educational tools and a Web-site early next year for health care professionals, occupational therapists, and consumers. Experts are available for reporters' inquiries.

    The American Occupational Therapy Association is the nationally recognized professional association of more than 35,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students of occupational therapy. These practitioners serve people with physical illnesses and injuries, congenital and chronic conditions, and mental and developmental disabilities, helping them regain, develop, and build skills essential to restoring or maintaining independent function, health and well-being, and social participation. For more information, please visit


    © 2004 Newswise. All Rights Reserved.

    it seems to me cushions are the key. i know more ppl on rohos w/ sores than any other cushion, yet they are pushed by therapists docs ect. rep
    c4/5 inc funtioning c6. 28 yrs post.
    sponsored handcycle racer


      I have used Roho cushions for 12 years and have never had a problem. I won't sit on anything else.