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How Can I Prevent and Treat Pain in a Pressure Ulcer?

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Updated March 06, 2009

Question: How Can I Prevent and Treat Pain in a Pressure Ulcer?
My loved one has a pressure ulcer and it seems to be very painful. How can I help make her more comfortable?
Answer: Pressure ulcers are painful. For a patient with a pressure ulcer, everyday activities such as turning, lifting, changing, and cleaning them can be miserable experiences. The pressure sore needs to be cleaned and dressed regularly, causing more agony.

You can help prevent and treat pain from a pressure sore by following three simple recommendations:

  1. Reduce Contact and Pressure to the Sore

    It’s a good idea to minimize pressure on a sore that has already developed. Limiting pressure will help prevent the sore from getting worse and will prevent pain from contact. For example, if the person you’re caring for has a sore on her lower back, keep her positioned comfortably on her side. Maintain a turning schedule of every two hours, alternating back and forth.

    For more information on turning and positioning, see “How to Properly Position a Person in Bed.”

    She will need to be on her back for short periods of time, such as during meals, but minimizing the amount of time she lays on the pressure sore can speed healing and reduce pain.

  2. Give Pain Medication Regularly as Ordered

    It’s far easier to prevent pain than to treat it once it’s in full force. It’s likely that your loved one’s physician has prescribed a pain medication for the sore. If he hasn’t, be sure to ask him for something. Treatments like Tylenol and Motrin typically won’t be enough to bring comfort and something stronger will need to be prescribed.

    Giving pain medication at regular intervals throughout the day will help prevent a pain crisis. It will also help your loved one get through daily tasks more comfortably.

    For more information on how often you should give pain medications, see “How Often Should I Take/Give Pain Medication?”

    Give the medication as prescribed by the ordering physician. If your loved one still has pain despite the medicine, talk with her physician about making changes.

  3. Pre-Medicate Before Giving Care

    Daily care activities like turning, toileting, and cleaning can be excruciatingly painful. If you know you will be providing care, such as giving a bath or getting her out of bed, give your loved one a dose of pain medication at least 30 minutes before starting. Many physicians will prescribe a low dose of fast-acting morphine for this purpose. Giving her the medication 30 minutes before starting care will give the medicine time to work and make the activity much more pleasant for your loved one.

    Also be sure to pre-medicate before doing wound care. Whether it's you or a nurse doing the dressing change, give pain medication at least 30 minutes before beginning. You may need to coordinate this with the nurse if she comes to change the dressing. Have her call you at least 30 minutes before she plans on being there and give the medication then.

    More on Pressure Ulcers:

    Pressure Ulcers: Know the Risks
    Pressure Ulcers: Prevention is Key!
    How to Change a Diaper in Bed
    How to Lift Someone Safely
    How to Position Someone in Bed

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