Lower extremity ulcer management: best practice algorithm

J Clin Nurs. 2011 Jan;20(1-2):86-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03431.x. Epub 2010 Nov 17.


Aims and objectives: This literature review aims to define best nursing practice for lower limb ulcer care promoting stabilisation of this physiological consequence of diabetes mellitus and to help provide improved integration of health-within-illness for the patients.

Background: According to the Centers of Disease Control, the number of people with diabetes has risen from 20·8 million in 2005 to over 23·6 million in 2007. Research has identified best practice algorithms for care of the diabetic foot, yet none for the ulcerations on the limb from the knee to the ankle.

Design: The design of this literature review is to compile research from both nursing and medical communities to develop a best practice for the stabilisation of a lower limb ulcer. A literature search was conducted based on the theoretical framework of stabilisation of a chronic condition.

Methods: Twenty-nine articles were identified for use in the evaluation of best practice of lower limb ulcerations. Each article was synthesised using a protocol tool.

Results: Control of hyperglycaemia, infection control, ulcer debridement, use of dressings and compression therapy to relieve venous congestion were all identified as important factors in the treatment of lower limb ulcerations.

Conclusions: This systematic literature review has resulted in a 'best nursing practice algorithm' for the stabilisation and care of lower limb ulcerations regardless of underlying cause. This care algorithm could be used in collaboration with other health care providers to promote stabilisation of lower limb ulcers and improve the overall quality of life of patient cohort.

Relevance to clinical practice: The results of this study yield a suggested 'best practice' algorithm for the stabilisation of a lower limb ulcer--treat and control hyperglycaemia; prevent and/or control infection of the ulcer; routine debridement of the ulcer; using the most appropriate type of dressings for each patient; and the application of compression therapy. This algorithm can also be used for to frame patient teaching regarding appropriate treatments and therapies to promote the patient's self-care and stabilisation of the ulcer.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Benchmarking*
  • Humans
  • Leg / pathology*
  • Ulcer / nursing*
  • Ulcer / pathology