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How to Prevent Pressure Ulcers After a Spinal Cord Injury

Woman at desk with a glass of water

If since your spinal cord injury you’re less mobile and physically independent, you may be staying in particular laying or sitting positions for longer than you would have before, which can put extra pressure on your skin and the vessels that carry the nutrients to it. The more pressure these are both under, the less able your skin is to keep healthy which can lead to wounds called pressure ulcers. These wounds can be uncomfortable or painful, but they can also increase the chance of getting infections and becoming unwell that might need medications or treatment in hospital. These can also take longer to heal if you are not not mobilising or helped to mobilise frequently. Making nutritious and hydrating choices is one of the best forms of skin care and pressure ulcer prevention so that you can spend more of your time doing what you love.

Most of our skin is made from collagen and our body can produce this when we eat enough protein at our meals. We also need zinc and vitamin C to help our bodies produce collagen from the protein that we eat. Iron helps our red blood cells carry oxygen to our skin to fuel our cells so it can stay strong and repair any damage that happens. Water helps carry nutrients around our body, including to our skin, plus it helps our skin be more elastic and better cope with pressure changes. Our shape and size can also influence the pressure on our skin when laying or sitting. Check our blog on spinal cord injury and weight loss for more spinal cord injury diet advice.

Our Top Pressure Sores Prevention Tips

1. Aim to choose hydrating drinks and foods such as those in our Spinal cord injury bladder problems & management blog post. Our separate ‘Living with a Urinary Catheter Hydration Guide’ has lots of helpful hydrating tips even for those without catheters

2. Include at least a quarter of your plate as a high protein food at each meal, these foods are often also high in zinc and iron. We give some examples of such foods in our How to maintain bone health after a spinal cord injury blog post and we also have some suggested portion sizes in our ‘Living with a Stoma Nutritional Guide’.

3. Aim for 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day, eating a variety across the day and week to get enough vitamin C but also other vitamins and minerals. Aim for a third of your meal to be vegetables, or half if you are aiming to reach a slimmer build. At present, there is no long-term and strong clinical evidence that taking collagen supplements improves how our bodies produce collagen and this has been researched in groups of people with spinal cord injuries and those without. There can be risks and side-effects when taking supplements and it is more effective and safer to eat high-protein foods at each meal and trying to choose a variety of types across the day and week.