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Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: LIFE Center

Skin Care: Relieving Pressure on the Skin

Reviewed August 2014
Author: Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago - Nursing Practice Council

Pressure relief involves changing position so that pressure is taken off an area of the body, especially a bony area. Pressure relief is very important for healthy skin since too much pressure will squeeze blood out of the blood vessels in a certain area, blocking the skin of important nutrients and oxygen.

Relieving pressure in bed

The amount of time you can lie in one position will vary. Lying on the stomach is a very good position for some people because it helps you stretch out. It also makes it less likely to develop a pressure sore.

When lying on the back:
Make sure heels are not on the mattress. A foam wedge or pillow placed under the leg will free the heel, as will placing the heel over the edge of the bed.

no pressure on heel

When lying on your side:
Do not rest one leg on top of the other. Instead, place one leg forward and one behind to help keep the side lying position. A pillow should be placed between the knees. Make sure there is no pressure on the shoulder.

lying on your side

Lying on the stomach:
Can be done lying completely on the stomach or at a tilt. To lie at a tilt, lie on your side with top leg over bottom leg, place a pillow across the bed by your chest. Now pull your bottom most arm back. To turn completely onto stomach do the same steps but do not use a pillow.

lying on your stomach with a pillow

Do not lie on your stomach if you have a feeding tube or tracheostomy. Ask your doctor if it is okay for you to lie on your stomach before you try it.

lying on your stomach without a pillow

Relieving pressure in a wheelchair

  • When sitting in a wheelchair, relieve pressure at least once every 30 minutes for two to three minutes. Lock brakes before doing this.
  • Lean from one side to the other. This way relieves pressure first over one ischium (sitting bone), then the other.
  • wheelchair pressure relief by leaning from one side to the other
  • Lock brakes and bend at the waist, bringing chest down to knees. Lift weight off bottom. Do this only when another person is present to keep you from losing your balance and falling.
  • wheelchair pressure relief by bending at the waist
  • As your arms get stronger you can do pressure reliefs by placing hands on the arm rest and lifting bottom off from the seat cushion.
  • pressure relief by lifting your  bottom off the seat cushion

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