What are pressure sores, how painful are they and why should they never occur?

Pressure sores are incredibly painful, far too common, and almost always a result of failings in medical or social care. Expert clinical negligence solicitors from Browell Smith & Co explain why pressure sores should be prevented in all cases, and what action to take if a sore develops.

Pressure sores – also known as bed sores or pressure ulcers – are caused when a person sits or lies in the same position for too long.

The weight of the patient’s own body puts pressure on the skin and cuts off blood supply, causing the sore to develop.

They are most common on the boniest areas – heels, elbows, hips and the base of the spine. They usually develop gradually over time, but can also appear after just a few hours.

Despite advances in medical care and increased knowledge of pressure sores and their causes, they are still far too common.

Simply put, nobody should ever suffer from a pressure sore. When they have occurred, it is often because the patient has not been cared for correctly.

They are such a serious and widespread issue that it is important for everyone to recognise the causes and symptoms of pressure sores, and to fully understand their rights and what action to take if they or a relative find they have developed pressure sores.

In what situations do pressure sores occur?

Pressure sores are typically caused when a person spends too long in the same position, usually in a hospital or care home bed. Patients who cannot move themselves, because of illness or injury, need to be turned frequently by medical or care staff to ensure pressure sores do not develop.

The vast majority of cases pressure sores are preventable: nobody should ever suffer from a pressure sore.

NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – has an extensive guide on assessing a patient’s risk of pressure sores, and on ways to prevent them from occurring. It recommends that a patient be turned or repositioned at least every six hours, or every four hours for high-risk patients. This should be documented and adhered to.

How painful are pressure sores?

The pain caused by pressure sores depends on the severity of the sore, which are graded into four categories according to their severity, as follows:

Stage one

A stage one pressure sore affects the outer layer of skin only, but symptoms can still include pain, burning and itching. If treated quickly and correctly, a stage one pressure sore can disappear within a few days.

Stage two

If a sore is allowed to develop, it not only becomes redder and more visible, but digs deeper below the skin. A stage two pressure sore will also see the skin break and form a blister, and even if treated correctly, can take up to three weeks to heal.

Stage three

A stage three pressure sore goes deeper still, beyond the skin into the fat layer. It typically looks like a crater and can have a bad odour. It is likely to be infected and will require significant care to heal properly, including antibiotics if it has become infected. A stage three pressure sore can take up to four months to heal.

Stage four

The most serious and most painful grade of pressure sore: a stage four pressure sore is as deep as it’s possible to go. Skin has usually turned black and is showing signs of infection and you may be able to see muscle, tendon and even bone. A stage four pressure sore requires urgent medical attention and can take years to heal.

Even a stage one pressure sore can be very painful, ironically making it even more difficult to move around.

When can you take legal action over pressure sores?

There are no circumstances in which a pressure sore is acceptable. No matter how over-stretched and under-resourced care and medical staff are, patients who cannot move for themselves need to be moved/turned regularly.

There are certain types of equipment, such as special mattresses, that can help, and these should be offered. Likewise, coping with pressure sores should be part of patients’ personalised care plans, where relevant.

The conclusion is simple, though – if a patient has developed a pressure sore whilst in care, then they have not been cared for properly.

If you, or a relative, has suffered from pressure sores while in care, then Browell Smith & Co might be able to help. Contact us straight away to talk about the circumstances around your pressure sore(s) and we can guide you in the right direction.


Browell Smith & Co has a long-standing reputation for securing justice for victims of personal injury and medical negligence. You can read more about our range of personal injury services here, or our clinical negligence/pressure sores services here.

Contact our expert team today to arrange an appointment in Newcastle, Cramlington, Ashington and Sunderland, or alternatively by calling 0800 107 3000, to discuss your particular requirements.

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