Bed Sores

Waterbed Facts - Bedsores

What Causes Bedsores?

When a person is confined to a bed or wheelchair for a long period of time, extra pressure is exerted on certain parts of the body. Sitting involves mainly the buttocks while reclining also includes the shoulder blades, elbows, leg calves & heals. At these 'pressure points' the tissue is pressed between hard underlying bone and the surface of the bed. The blood vessels in the tissue become 'squeezed', reducing the necessary flow of blood to the tissue cells. If this pressure is prolonged, the cells, deprived of their vital blood supply, begin to die, causing a 'decubitus ulcer' or bedsore.
Normally a person shifts his position often enough to relieve these pressure points and maintain proper blood flow. However, people that are confined to a bed or wheelchair due to chronic illness have constant pressure exerted at these points, causing ulcers. These ulcers are difficult and expensive to treat and can sometimes even result in death.


Treatment and prevention of ulcers depends upon reducing the pressure of these critical parts of the body. Methods such as use of air, silicone, and foam rubber mattresses, regular turning of patients, and surgical closure have been tried with much expense and difficulty in attaining success. A satisfactory method of treatment and prevention is now available through the use if a water-filled flotation mattress.

Common Patients

Any patient who is immobilised due to some illness such as spinal cord injuries, coma, hip fractures, diseases of the circulatory system, cancer or any medical problem which requires prolonged bed time, is susceptible to bed sores. The most common sites involve the sacrum, the bony process of the buttocks, the spine, knee caps, shins, elbows, heels, rib cage, both sides of the ankle joints and shoulder blades

The incidence of bed sores in chronic illness varies from 10-30%. However, in the older population, late 60's to early 70's, it is as high as 60%.

Patient Benefits

Through the use of a flotation system, a person can prevent the formation of decubitus ulcers. Patients who have already formed ulcers can expect more rapid healing when switched to a flotation mattress. This healing may be up to three times faster than without the use of the flotation surface.
The patient will also have the added benefits of improvement in sleep and general circulation.
The Journal of American Medical Association reports on a a study done at the Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center of Eastern Fairfax Country in Bridgeport that, five hundred patients slept on flotation mattresses over a three year period, and "not one developed and ulcer". Furthermore, ulcers already present in some patients healed more rapidly than expected.
A clinical trial conducted at the Jersey City Medical Center as published in the American Family Physician placed 48 patients on hospital flotation mattresses. Of the 24 patients who already had ulcers, 71% were completely healed after three weeks. None of the other 24 patients developed ulcers even after four weeks.
In Harlem Hospital Center, New York, 10 patients of which only one was ulcer free, were placed on flotation mattresses. The American Journal of Nursing reports that "after at least one week all ulcers showed signs of healing. No new lesions were observed in any patient while on the water mattress".

Why Use a Flotation Mattress?

A flotation mattress not only prevents the formation of ulcers, but greatly aids the healing of existing ones as well. This is because the is 2/3 less pressure exerted on the critical points than with a conventional bed. This is due to a unique system of support for the body. *** In the diagram below, it can be seen that with a conventional bed all the body weight is concentrated on the pressure points only.

However with the flotation mattress, the body weight is not concentrated on the pressure points alone. Instead, weight is distributed more evenly and as shown in the diagram, all parts of the body are supported.

This support allows the blood to flow freely to all parts of the body. This boost to circulation is further enhanced by the warmth from heated flotation systems.


E.R. Griffin III, Brigade Surgeon 187th inf., Ft. Benning, Georgia. "Decubitus Ulcers, Prevention and Management: A Review," Military Medicine, Vol.147, May 1982.
"Waterbeds are excellent in the prevention of bed sores. Water displacement causes a state of weightlessness thus reducing pressure on the skin"

Mark L. Phippen, "RN or Nurses Guide to Preventing Pressure Sores." AORN Journal, Aug. 1982, Vol.36#2
Captain Phippen reviews the current medical literature and concepts in the prevention of pressure sores. The heavy emphasis in this article is the use of signs, symptoms, and the role of the nurse in the prevention of the problem.