Preventing Pressure Injuries from Prone Positioning

As medical experts continue to grow their knowledge base of the most effective ways to treat patients with COVID-19, wound healing specialists are there to help identify and address both short- and long-term safety concerns that arise from such treatments.

For example, studies have shown that coronavirus patients who lie face-down in what’s called a “prone position” while both awake and supplied with supplemental oxygen are less likely to need intubation or the use of a ventilator.

Being able to survive COVID-19 while avoiding these more aggressive procedures is obviously critical for patients and their loved ones.

However, lying in a prone position for long periods of time can put patients at risk of complications from another serious ailment: pressure injuries.

What is a Pressure Injury?

Also known as bedsores, pressure ulcers and pressure sores, pressure injuries can happen when force (i.e., continued pressure, dragging, rubbing, etc.) is applied between the skin and another surface.

What may start out as discoloration to the skin can quickly evolve into skin damage, an open wound and, if left untreated, a life-threatening infection that extends into the muscles and bone.

When someone, such as a COVID-19 patient, is required to lie in a face-down position over long periods of time (a.k.a., ‘proning’), they become at risk of pressure injuries at multiple points in the body: the forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, clavicle, and down through the chest, breast, genitals, pelvic bones, knees and feet.

According to one study, a patient’s risk of developing a pressure increasing increases three-fold when one lays in a prone position versus when lying face-up on her/his back.

To avoid injuries that may complicate the COVID recovery process, patients will benefit from the careful watch of a wound healing specialist to ensure such injuries are prevented and/or quickly treated.

What Can a Wound Healing Specialist Do?

Besides regular monitoring, the identification of troubled areas, and treating, a wound healing specialist will work with patients to help prevent such injuries from happening in the first place.

With respect to facial pressures to the forehead and chin, which are most at-risk when lying in a prone position, one recent study suggests that the individualized use of prophylactic dressings as directed by a wound healing specialists can vastly reduce the onset of pressure injuries.

By how much? According to the study, such dressings can reduce the risk to foreheads by up to 71 percent and chins by up to 92 percent.

Wound healing specialists will also oversee other preventative techniques such as the use of paddings, foams and positioning devices, as well as continual monitoring and position changes, when required.

The bottom line: when it comes to prone positioning (‘proning’), pressure injury prevention planning and education with a wound healing specialist is key to maintaining overall health and avoiding complications while being treated for COVID-19.


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