Spinal Cord Injuries and Pressure Ulcers: What You Need to Know

Spinal Cord Injuries and Pressure UlcersMany people who know and care about someone with a spinal cord injury typically think about the difficulties and challenges that they commonly experience, such as lack of mobility, paralysis, chronic pain, loss of sensations, spasticity, inability to control the bladder or bowels, and breathing issues.

However, one of the most severe but less thought about problems that spinal cord injury victims frequently experience are pressure ulcers. If you are a caretaker for someone with a spinal cord injury, you need to know what causes them, what risks they pose, and how you can help prevent their development.

What are pressure ulcers?

According to the Mayo Clinic, pressure ulcers, also referred to as bedsores, are “injuries to skin and underlying tissue resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin.” While these ulcers can form anywhere on the human body, they tend to emerge in locations that are bony, such as your heels, hips, ankles, elbows, knees, and more.

Bedsores can develop quickly or over time; it depends on the pressure and the patient. From the NHS:

Pressure ulcers can develop when a large amount of pressure is applied to an area of skin over a short period of time. They can also occur when less pressure is applied over a longer period of time.

The extra pressure disrupts the flow of blood through the skin. Without a blood supply, the affected skin becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients, and begins to break down, leading to an ulcer forming.

The NHS also explains that “the lack of blood supply also means that the skin no longer receives infection-fighting white blood cells. Once an ulcer has developed, it can become infected by bacteria.”

Why are victims of a spinal cord injury at risk of developing pressure ulcers?

Around 2.5 million people in the United States experience pressure ulcers annually, and about 30 percent of these individuals, according to Flint Rehab, are those with spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injury victims are at risk of developing pressure sores because they typically lack mobility, are completely or partially paralyzed, or do not have feelings in certain areas. This leaves them unable to switch their positions, and unable to tell if a sore has developed.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that “spinal cord injury results in motor paralysis and sensory loss that places individuals at particularly high risk of pressure injuries.” To make matters worse, when an individual with a spinal cord injury has other issues and dysfunctions related to their injury, such as gastrointestinal, neurological, musculoskeletal, pulmonary, or even cardiovascular problems, it increases their risk of developing pressure ulcers.

What are the symptoms of a pressure ulcer?

A few of the most common symptoms of bedsores include:

  • Skin texture changes;
  • Changing skin tones;
  • Increased swelling;
  • Wet areas on the skin from draining pus;
  • Extra sensitive or painful areas to touch;
  • Warmer or cooler areas on the skin; and
  • Bleeding or redness.

The four stages of pressure ulcers

Flint Rehab points out that there are four stages of a pressure ulcer:

  1. In the first stage, a pressure ulcer is typically mild. This means that you may notice slight redness or skin that feels very warm to touch. If you are unsure of whether this is a pressure ulcer, you will know if the skin stays red for more than 30 minutes after moving your loved one into a new position.
  2. The second stage pressure ulcer presents a broken or open wound. This may look like a mild scrape, cut, or blister. You may also see some pus or wetness in the location of the ulcer.
  3. A third stage pressure ulcer is severe and deep. The spinal cord injury victim may have serious pain if they have feeling in the area.
  4. The fourth stage pressure ulcer affects skin, muscle tissue, joints, and even bones being affected.

By taking the time to understand these four stages, you may be able to notice your loved one’s pressure ulcer before it becomes serious.

Tips to help a spinal cord injury victim prevent or avoid pressure ulcers

There are several ways caretakers can help spinal cord injury victims avoid pressure ulcers, including:

  • Providing them with a well-balanced diet: A well-balanced diet is essential for spinal cord injury victims. This includes a lot of vegetables and proteins, which help prevent sores and skin issues.
  • Encouraging them to drink a lot of water: Water hydrates your skin, which helps it become healthier and stronger. As a result, encouraging your loved one to drink a lot of water can help prevent pressure ulcers.
  • Using cushions for them to sit or lie on: While this is not a requirement, cushioning helps those with mobility issues or paralysis when sitting or lying down. You can even have custom cushions made to fit your loved one’s body, which can help them avoid pressure ulcers.
  • Putting the proper clothing on them: When you help your loved one get dressed, you should ensure that they are wearing the proper clothing. Anything that is too tight can irritate the skin.
  • Checking their skin every single day: You should check their skin every single morning or night for any abnormalities or changes. This helps you stay on top of any possible pressure ulcers that may be forming.
  • Moving them every few hours: Regular movement helps ease the pressure and get the blood flowing, which in turn reduces the risk of bedsores.

Spinal cord injuries often have lifelong complications, and pressure ulcers are just one of them. If another person’s negligence resulted in your spinal cord injury, our lawyers can help. McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP fights for the catastrophically injured in California.  Please call our office or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, which will take place remotely.

Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.