Skin Care After Spinal Cord Injury

What do I need to know about skin care after a spinal cord injury?

Skin care after a spinal cord injury is important because you are at risk for pressure sores. A pressure sore is also called a pressure ulcer, bed sore, or decubitus ulcer. They develop when you sit or lie on a bony area for too long. Bladder or bowel accidents can make your skin wet and cause the skin to break down more quickly. You may not be able to feel a cut or scratch until it becomes a blister or large draining sore.

How do I care for my skin?

  • Keep your skin clean and dry. Inspect your skin completely 2 times each day. Use a mirror or ask someone to help you. Look at the areas that most easily get sores, such as your foot or heel, hips, or buttocks. Shower or bathe often and make sure to clean between the folds of your skin. Wash and gently dry your skin as soon as possible after a bowel or bladder accident. Change your clothes as soon as possible if they are wet. Use lotion on your skin. Do not use powder.

  • Do not sit or lie in the same position for too long. Change position at least every 2 hours. Ask someone to help you if you cannot move yourself. Healthcare providers can help you with exercises to do in bed or a chair.

  • Prevent injury and protect your skin. Do not wear clothes that are too tight or too loose. Thick seams, buttons, or zippers can cause sores. Avoid activities that rub, scratch, or cut your skin. Sliding from one place to another can pull or stretch your skin and tear it. Lift yourself or have someone help lift you. Ask about medical equipment that can help protect your skin.

What else can I do to help prevent a pressure sore?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Limit caffeine.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking decreases oxygen supply to your skin. This makes it easier to get a pressure sore. Ask for information if you need help quitting.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • You have a red area on your skin that does not turn white when you press on it.

  • You have a blister or open sore.

  • You have a sore that is red, swollen, or draining pus.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have severe pain.

  • You have a deep sore that may be draining blood or fluid.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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