Preventing Pressure or Bedsores on Long Car Trips

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Long trips by car can be quite fun when you’re with friends and family, but sitting for too long can be detrimental to your physical wellbeing. This is especially true if you or someone you’re traveling with cannot move a lot or without assistance and spends most of their day in a single position. When a person stays in one spot for way too long, they are at risk of developing bedsores. Also known as pressure ulcers, pressure sores, and decubitus ulcers, these are injuries caused by prolonged pressure to a part of your body, which can result in disrupted blood flow and skin damage.

Bedsores, if left untreated, can become quite nasty. From seeming like an innocent red patch of skin to literally killing off your skin and tissue and leaving a gaping wound behind, bedsores are not something you should take lightly. Bedsores often take a long time to heal, and some don’t heal at all if they’re too far gone.

People with bedsores not only experience constant pain throughout the day, other people also tend to stay away from them because of the smell and overall sickening nature of the injury. Simply put, these horrible sores should be caught and treated early on or prevented from developing at all. So, if you have a long car trip coming up, continue reading as we explain how to prevent bedsores from developing.

Understanding Bed Sores

Bedsores are ulcers that occur when a person stays immobile for a very long time without changing position and putting pressure on the same spots of their body. The most susceptible parts of the body are the buttocks, the undersides of your thighs, your shoulders, the back of your neck, and the soles of your feet. Bedsores start off as a red patch on the skin. This red patch may be accompanied by pain, a burning feeling, and even itching. At this stage the bedsore can easily be reversed and treated, which is why it is so important to take action timely.

As the sore develops it takes on a more concerning look. It gets darker, the pain worsens, and it may start to look like a blister. At this stage, internal damage has begun. Eventually, the sore begins to sag inwards and starts to look like a pit. Significant damage has been done under the surface and the patient is now in severe pain all the time.

Reversing a bedsore from this stage is much more difficult, but still doable. In its final stage, the damage reaches bone level, and the sore may open up as a wound. Skin and tissue are irreversibly damaged and bones may be visible. Infection is a serious concern and can be life threatening. Patient is in severe pain now and getting better is a process that may take years, if it is even possible.

Planning Ahead

As you’re probably aware by now, bed sores are an absolute nightmare and not something to be taken lightly. A “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” attitude just won’t do with bed sores, so advance planning is in order. If you plan preventative measures in your trip, there will be less hassle and frustration for everyone involved and a better understanding of the situation.

Rest stops will have to be plenty. You or the patient will continuously have to be moved and have their seating position altered to never keep pressure on the same spots for too long. Here are a few tips to help you plan ahead for frequent rest stop breaks on your trip.

  • Seat the patient in an accessible seat where others don’t have to get out for you to have access to them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the rest stops you will encounter on your trip by using digital or paper maps. Keep a list handy if you need to.
  • Plan rest stops intelligently; around lunch, supper, and dinner timings as well as dedicating some rest stops as bathroom breaks. You can also calculate when you will need to refuel the car and which gas station you can stop at for that.
  • Discuss the rest stops with the others beforehand so they are in the know and can plan their trip accordingly as well.
  • Try to find and select rest stops that have some entertainment so the others have something to do while the patient takes some time to stretch and move about.

Selecting the Right Car and Seat

If you have the option to go on a trip in a car of your choosing, we’d recommend choosing one that has a lot of legroom and big seats, so the patient can be seated as comfortably as possible. More legroom means the patient can sink into their seat if needed, and bigger seats allow for a wider range of possible positions to ride in without disturbing other people in the car. Some cars come with 8-way and even 10-way seat adjustments that allow great flexibility in how a person is seated and supported by the seat.

Which seat you put the patient in also matters. Oftentimes, the driver and front passenger seats of a car are the most comfortable; with better lumbar support, better back grip, and softer cushioning as well as armrests. The front passenger seat would be ideal, but if that’s not possible then select the seat that gives the patient the most room and isn’t a hassle to get into (like middle seats and seats in the back of longer cars that are inaccessible by a door).

Selecting the Right Car and Seat

Proper Seating and Positioning

As we’ve discussed, bed sores occur from constant pressure on a body spot for too long. Naturally, this means that for a long car trip you need to position the patient in a way that reduces pressure as much as possible from as much of the body as possible. Not only does this reduce the chances of bedsores developing, it also means less frequent stops as the body isn’t under as much pressure. Furthermore, the patient will be more comfortable in general if the body is seated with proper support.

Best Seating Options and Seating Tips

It is important to consider optimal seating options to reduce the chances of you or your patient developing bedsores on a long trip. Firstly, keep the patient seated upright with proper lumbar support. If the seat’s lumbar support isn’t good enough, a support pillow (memory foam) will improve the seating experience. After sufficient time has passed in the upright position – around two hours between each shift – you should stop and change how the patient is seated.

If the seat behind the patient is empty and the seat can be reclined fully, the patient can spend some time lying down and it will take most of the pressure off of their buttocks and spread it across the back. In this position, you can put a pillow below their legs above the knees and take even more pressure off of their butt. If the seat cannot be reclined fully, it’s better for the patient to not lie down at all; as tilted positions would put even more pressure on their bottom. 

Another possibility is purchasing a donut pillow specifically made for preventing bed sores on the butt. These can be placed on the seat and the patient can be slipped into it so weight doesn’t go on their butt and instead is spread on the legs. You can also put cushions on one side and have the patient lay on them for some time to remove pressure from one side of the body. If your car’s seat is a 10-way adjustable, you can also tilt the seat to change where gravity affects the patient the most.

Stretching and Movement

Preventing bedsores isn’t all about simply changing the position you’re sitting or lying down. A big part of preventing bedsores is having proper blood circulation. Though changing your position frequently on a car ride is good, you drastically lower your chances of developing bedsores if you get out and move at rest stops. If mobility isn’t too big of an issue, step out of the car at the rest stops and go for a light walk.

There are also stretches you can do that help blood circulation and relieve stress from your muscles. Movement and stretches also ensure a longer time being comfortable in the car as you would have just gotten some proper circulation in your body. Here are a few tips for stretches and exercises at rest stops.

  • Go for a light walk. Even this improves blood circulation and eases up your muscles.
  • Do simple stretches – like stretching your arms and back – to relieve tension in your muscles.
  • Perform some basic yoga stretches like the ‘downward dog’.
  • Stand straight and bend down trying to touch your toes.
  • If your mobility is limited, take this opportunity to be carried for a bit to relieve your butt or to lay down by reclining your seat or on the back seats while everyone is out of the car.

Stretching and Movement

Hydration and Nutrition

Lastly, let’s talk about the diet. It would be an understatement to say that diet matters when it comes to developing bedsores. A proper balance of vitamins, calories, carbs, and protein is essential to the proper functioning of your body. If your diet is lacking in required nutrition, you will be more likely to develop bedsores and less likely to have them heal.

Hydration also determines your risk of developing and healing bed sores. Insufficient hydration over time leads to weaker skin and muscles that are more likely to get damaged, and also slows down the healing of wounds and reduces the oxygen level around the wound. Remember to drink lots of water every day for a healthy body. Here are a few tips for healthier eating and drinking on long car trips:

  • Pack homemade lunches instead of resorting to fast food at rest stops.
  • Pack some fruits or nuts to eat whenever the cravings hit instead of crisps and cookies.
  • Stick to water and drop the fizzy drinks. Water is the healthiest drink you can have.
  • Pack your food in airtight containers to retain freshness and taste.
  • Take an ice cooler with you to keep your water cool for the duration of the trip.

Hydration and Nutrition

Conclusion

Long car rides can be stressful if not managed properly, so here are a few closing words of advice for the big trip ahead.

  • Sleep properly. Lack of sleep will be a major downer.
  • Manage anger and stress lest the trip be ruined for everyone.
  • Remember to eat healthy.
  • Keep yourself warm so you don’t fall ill.
  • Stop at interesting locations to break the monotony and try to get everyone involved.

Bedsores are no joke and can seriously impact your quality of life if left untreated. Prevention is always better than the cure, and fortunately, bedsores are quite easily prevented. For maximum enjoyment from your trip, you should inspect the patient for bedsores daily and never slack when it comes to changing positions or helping them move around. A lazy day today might lead to a gaping wound tomorrow. So, plan your trip carefully and thoroughly to make it easier on yourself and the patient.

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