Support surfaces for pressure ulcer prevention

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004:(3):CD001735. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001735.pub2.


Background: Pressure ulcers (also known as bedsores, pressure sores, decubitus ulcers) are areas of localised damage to the skin and underlying tissue due to pressure, shear or friction. They are common in the elderly and immobile and costly in financial and human terms. Pressure-relieving beds, mattresses and seat cushions are widely used as aids to prevention in both institutional and non-institutional settings.

Objectives: This systematic review seeks to answer the following questions: to what extent do pressure-relieving cushions, beds, mattress overlays and mattress replacements reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with standard support surfaces? how effective are different pressure-relieving surfaces in preventing pressure ulcers, compared to one another?

Search strategy: The Specialised Trials Register of the Cochrane Wounds Group (compiled from regular searches of many electronic databases including MEDLINE, CINAHL and EMBASE plus handsearching of specialist journals and conference proceedings) was searched up to January 2004, Issue 3, 2004 of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials was also searched. The reference sections of included studies were searched for further trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), published or unpublished, which assessed the effectiveness of beds, mattresses, mattress overlays, and seating cushions for the prevention of pressure ulcers, in any patient group, in any setting. RCTs were eligible for inclusion if they reported an objective, clinical outcome measure such as incidence and severity of new of pressure ulcers developed. Studies which only reported proxy outcome measures such as interface pressure were excluded.

Data collection and analysis: Trial data were extracted by one researcher and checked by a second. The results from each study are presented as relative risk for dichotomous variables. Where deemed appropriate, similar studies were pooled in a meta analysis.

Main results: 41 RCTs were included in the review. Foam alternatives to the standard hospital foam mattress can reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers in people at risk. The relative merits of alternating and constant low pressure devices, and of the different alternating pressure devices for pressure ulcer prevention are unclear.Pressure-relieving overlays on the operating table have been shown to reduce postoperative pressure ulcer incidence, although one study indicated that an overlay resulted in adverse skin changes. One trial indicated that Australian standard medical sheepskins prevented pressure ulcers. There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on the value of seat cushions, limb protectors and various constant low pressure devices as pressure ulcer prevention strategies.A study of Accident & Emergency trolley overlays did not identify a reduction in pressure ulcer incidence. There are tentative indications that foot waffle heel elevators, a particular low air loss hydrotherapy mattress and an operating theatre overlay are harmful.

Reviewers' conclusions: In people at high risk of pressure ulcer development, consideration should be given to the use of higher specification foam mattresses rather than standard hospital foam mattresses. The relative merits of higher-tech constant low pressure and alternating pressure for prevention are unclear. Organisations might consider the use of pressure relief for high risk patients in the operating theatre, as this is associated with a reduction in post-operative incidence of pressure ulcers. Seat cushions and overlays designed for use in Accident & Emergency settings have not been adequately evaluated.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Beds* / standards
  • Humans
  • Pressure Ulcer / prevention & control*
  • Pressure Ulcer / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic