Top 10 Causes of Pressure Sores

Pressure sores, also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers, are a concern for caregivers, healthcare professionals, and anyone at risk of experiencing extended periods of immobility. These debilitating wounds can be both painful and difficult to manage, and understanding their root causes is critical in preventing their onset. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top ten reasons why pressure sores develop, and we’ll share strategies to minimize risk and enhance patient care.

What Are Pressure Sores?

First, it’s essential to understand pressure sores and why they develop. Pressure sores are localized injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue, mostly over bony prominences as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with sheer forces. They can occur in various settings and populations, such as bedridden patients, wheelchair users, or those with conditions that limit their mobility. The stages of pressure sores range from a non-blanchable redness of the intact skin (stage I) to an open ulcer extending to the bone or muscle (stage IV). These wounds are not only painful and distressing to the patients but are also a challenge to healthcare systems due to the significant resources required for treatment.

- Advertisement -

Pressure Sore Stages

The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel has detailed four main pressure sore stages:

  • Stage I: Intact skin with non-blanchable redness
  • Stage II: Partial-thickness skin loss with exposed dermis
  • Stage III: Full-thickness skin loss
  • Stage IV: Full-thickness tissue loss with exposed bone, tendon, or muscle

In addition to these stages, healthcare professionals also note the presence of unstageable sores where the full extent is obscured by slough or eschar. Understanding these stages can help caregivers gauge the severity of the sore and respond accordingly.

1. Prolonged Pressure

The number one cause of pressure sores is prolonged pressure on the skin and underlying tissues. This pressure restricts blood flow to the area, leading to tissue ischemia, which can cause cell damage and can, in the worst cases, lead to necrosis (tissue death). Individuals with limited mobility who cannot change position easily are the most at risk.

How to Reduce Prolonged Pressure

  • Encourage frequent position changes for bedridden or seated individuals
  • Utilize specialized cushions and mattresses to distribute pressure more evenly
  • Use a turning and repositioning schedule to avoid the same areas being pressured for extended periods

2. Friction

Friction occurs when the skin is dragged across a surface, causing the top layer of skin to be rubbed off. This is a significant risk factor when repositioning or moving patients who may already have compromised skin integrity.

- Advertisement -

Techniques to Minimize Friction

  • Employ lifting and sliding sheets to move immobile patients
  • Keep the skin dry and clean to reduce surface tension
  • Maintain a high level of personal hygiene with careful attention to incontinence care

3. Shear

Shear occurs when two surfaces move in the opposite direction, causing the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissue to act in opposition to the direction of body movement. This can lead to tissue damage similar to a pressure sore.

Shear Prevention Measures

  • Use pillows or wedges to help keep the patient’s body in alignment
  • Keep the head of the bed as low as possible to minimize sliding
  • Properly lift rather than drag patients when moving them in bed or to a chair

4. Moisture

Excessive moisture can weaken the skin’s natural defenses and make it more prone to injury. This is particularly true in the presence of incontinence.

Managing Moisture Effectively

  • Use absorbent briefs and pads to manage incontinence
  • Keep the skin clean and dry, especially in skin folds and creases
  • Ensure regular skin inspections to identify and manage any maceration promptly

5. Poor Nutrition

Malnutrition deprives the body of the essential nutrients needed for healthy skin. Without these nutrients, the skin can become weak and less resistant to pressure and shearing forces.

Nutritional Strategies for Skin Integrity

  • Promote a diet rich in protein, vitamin C, and zinc to support wound healing
  • Consult a dietitian for personalized nutrition advice
  • Ensure adequate hydration as well, as dry skin is more susceptible to injury

6. Reduced Mobility

Pressure sores often occur due to difficulties in mobility, which can lead to a person spending large amounts of time in a single position, exerting pressure on a localized area.

Key Steps for Maintaining Mobility

  • Encourage physical activity within personal limitations
  • Utilize assistive devices as needed, such as walkers or canes
  • Regularly perform mobility exercises to improve range of motion

With aging, the skin becomes more fragile and less elastic, which means it’s more vulnerable to damage. The elderly population is therefore at a greater risk for pressure sore development.

  • Implement specialized skincare regimens for elderly individuals
  • Provide softer, more cushioned surfaces to sit and lie on
  • Regularly assess for the sign of developing pressure sores

8. Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or vascular disease, can lead to compromised blood flow, making the skin more susceptible to injury and slower to heal.

Condition-specific Pressure Sore Risk Assessment

  • Work closely with a healthcare provider to understand and manage health conditions
  • Ensure timely and appropriate treatment for systemic health issues
  • Monitor closely for any changes in skin condition, especially in high-risk areas

9. Sensory Loss

An inability to feel pain or discomfort due to conditions like diabetes or spinal cord injuries can lead to patients unknowingly exerting prolonged pressure on specific areas of the body.

Sensory Loss Management Strategies

  • Utilize assistive devices for regular sensory checks
  • Educate patient and care team on the importance of regular skin assessments
  • Employ visual checks to supplement traditional sensory assessments

10. Poor Circulation

Diminished blood flow to the skin and tissues, often due to conditions like atherosclerosis, can compromise the skin’s ability to repair itself and protect against further damage.

Improving Circulation for Skin Health

  • Encourage regular physical activity within patient’s capability
  • Elevate legs when sitting or lying down to improve venous return
  • Avoid tight clothing or restrictive devices that can impede circulation

Prevention Strategies

Prevention is key when it comes to managing pressure sores. By being aware of the risks and taking proactive measures, it’s possible to avoid many of the situations that lead to pressure sore development.

Early Detection and Management

  • Perform regular skin assessments, paying close attention to high-risk areas
  • Implement a care plan that includes daily skin checks and proper documentation
  • Ensure the use of appropriate interventions, such as pressure-relieving surfaces and turning schedules

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most common questions related to pressure sores:

How Can I Tell If a Sore Is Developing?

The earliest sign of a developing pressure sore is usually a persistent area of red skin that does not turn white (blanch) when pressed. It may also feel warmer or cooler to the touch than surrounding skin. Daily skin checks for these signs are crucial, especially for high-risk individuals.

What are the Most At-risk Areas for Developing Pressure Sores?

The most common sites for pressure sores are areas of the body that are subject to pressure, shearing, and moisture – typically over the sacrum, heels, hips, and elbows.

What Is the Best Treatment for Pressure Sore Relief?

The treatment for pressure sores depends on the stage of the ulcer. It may include relieving pressure on the affected area, keeping the wound clean, and providing necessary nutrition. In some cases, surgery may be required.


Pressure sores are a significant challenge, but one that can be effectively managed through vigilance and a collaborative approach to healthcare. Understanding the top causes of pressure sores equips caregivers and patients with the knowledge to take preventive steps, reduce risk, and maintain optimal skin health. By staying informed and implementing the strategies outlined here, we can work towards a world where pressure sores are a rarity rather than a commonplace concern.


Hot Topics


Related Articles


This site provides educational information only. It is important not to depend on any content here in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Similarly, it should not replace professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health concerns or questions, always seek guidance from a physician or another healthcare professional.