Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of pressure relieving beds, mattresses and cushions (support surfaces) in the prevention and treatment of pressure sores.
Search strategy: Searches of 19 databases, hand searching of journals, conference proceedings, and bibliographies.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials evaluating support surfaces for the prevention or treatment of pressure sores. There was no restriction on articles based on language or publication status.
Data collection and analysis: Data extraction and assessment of study quality was undertaken by two reviewers independently. Trials with similar patients, comparisons, and outcomes were pooled. Where pooling was inappropriate, trials are discussed in a narrative review.
Prevention: 29 RCTs of support surfaces for pressure sore prevention were identified. Some high specification foam mattresses were more effective than 'standard' hospital foam mattresses in moderate-high risk patients. Pressure relieving mattresses in the operating theatre reduced the incidence of pressure sores post-operatively. The relative merits of alternating and constant low pressure, and of the different alternating pressure devices are unclear. Seat cushions and simple, constant low-pressure devices have not been adequately evaluated. Limited evidence suggests that low air loss beds reduce the incidence of pressure sores in intensive care.
Treatment: 6 RCTs of support surfaces for pressure sore treatment were identified. There is good evidence that air-fluidised and low air loss beds improve healing rates. Seat cushions have not been adequately evaluated. 2 RCTs evaluated surfaces for both prevention and treatment in the same trial.
Reviewer's conclusions: PREVENTION - There is good evidence of the effectiveness of high specification foam over standard hospital foam, and pressure relief in the operating theatre. Treatment - There is good evidence of the effectiveness of air-fluidised and low air loss devices as treatments. Overall, however, it is impossible to determine the most effective surface for either prevention or treatment.