Clinician Article

Repositioning for pressure ulcer prevention in adults.

  • Gillespie BM
  • Chaboyer WP
  • McInnes E
  • Kent B
  • Whitty JA
  • Thalib L
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Apr 3;(4):CD009958. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009958.pub2. (Review)
PMID: 24700291
Read abstract Read full text
  • Hospital Doctor/Hospitalists
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Internal Medicine
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Geriatrics
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Public Health
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Dermatology
    Relevance - 4/7
    Newsworthiness - 3/7


BACKGROUND: A pressure ulcer (PU), also referred to as a 'pressure injury', 'pressure sore', or 'bedsore' is defined as an area of localised tissue damage that is caused by unrelieved pressure, friction or shearing forces on any part of the body. PUs commonly occur in patients who are elderly and less mobile, and carry significant human and economic impacts. Immobility and physical inactivity are considered to be major risk factors for PU development and the manual repositioning of patients in hospital or long-term care is a common pressure ulcer prevention strategy.

OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this review were to:1) assess the effects of repositioning on the prevention of PUs in adults, regardless of risk or in-patient setting;2) ascertain the most effective repositioning schedules for preventing PUs in adults; and3) ascertain the incremental resource consequences and costs associated with implementing different repositioning regimens compared with alternate schedules or standard practice.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the following electronic databases to identify reports of the relevant randomised controlled trials: the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (searched 06 September 2013), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2013, Issue 8); Ovid MEDLINE (1948 to August, Week 4, 2013); Ovid EMBASE (1974 to 2013, Week 35); EBESCO CINAHL (1982 to 30 August 2013); and the reference sections of studies that were included in the review.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), published or unpublished, that assessed the effects of any repositioning schedule or different patient positions and measured PU incidence in adults in any setting.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently performed study selection, risk of bias assessment and data extraction.

MAIN RESULTS: We included three RCTs and one economic study representing a total of 502 randomised participants from acute and long-term care settings. Two trials compared the 30º and 90º tilt positions using similar repositioning frequencies (there was a small difference in frequency of overnight repositioning in the 90º tilt groups between the trials). The third RCT compared alternative repositioning frequencies.All three studies reported the proportion of patients developing PU of any grade, stage or category. None of the trials reported on pain, or quality of life, and only one reported on cost. All three trials were at high risk of bias.The two trials of 30º tilt vs. 90º were pooled using a random effects model (I² = 69%) (252 participants). The risk ratio for developing a PU in the 30º tilt and the standard 90º position was very imprecise (pooled RR 0.62, 95% CI 0.10 to 3.97, P=0.62, very low quality evidence). This comparison is underpowered and at risk of a Type 2 error (only 21 events).In the third study, a cluster randomised trial, participants were randomised between 2-hourly and 3-hourly repositioning on standard hospital mattresses and 4 hourly and 6 hourly repositioning on viscoelastic foam mattresses. This study was also underpowered and at high risk of bias. The risk ratio for pressure ulcers (any category) with 2-hourly repositioning compared with 3-hourly repositioning on a standard mattress was imprecise (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.16, very low quality evidence). The risk ratio for pressure ulcers (any category) was compatible with a large reduction and no difference between 4-hourly repositioning and 6-hourly repositioning on viscoelastic foam (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.53 to 1.02, very low quality evidence).A cost-effectiveness analysis based on data derived from one of the included parallel RCTs compared 3-hourly repositioning using the 30º tilt overnight with standard care consisting of 6-hourly repositioning using the 90º lateral rotation overnight. In this evaluation the only included cost was nursing time. The intervention was reported to be cost saving compared with standard care (nurse time cost per patient €206.6 vs €253.1, incremental difference €-46.5; 95%CI: €-1.25 to €-74.60).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Repositioning is an integral component of pressure ulcer prevention and treatment; it has a sound theoretical rationale, and is widely recommended and used in practice. The lack of robust evaluations of repositioning frequency and position for pressure ulcer prevention mean that great uncertainty remains but it does not mean these interventions are ineffective since all comparisons are grossly underpowered. Current evidence is small in volume and at risk of bias and there is currently no strong evidence of a reduction in pressure ulcers with the 30° tilt compared with the standard 90º position or good evidence of an effect of repositioning frequency. There is a clear need for high-quality, adequately-powered trials to assess the effects of position and optimal frequency of repositioning on pressure ulcer incidence.The limited data derived from one economic evaluation means it remains unclear whether repositioning every 3 hours using the 30º tilt is less costly in terms of nursing time and more effective than standard care involving repositioning every 6 hours using a 90º tilt.

Clinical Comments


As a dermatologist, I have known of the benefits of repositioning to prevent pressure ulcers for a long time. This review confirms the concept but it is not novel. Additionally, few US dermatologist provide in-patient care to patients at risk.


Though an important area, it is an understudied one, unfortunately.


Another one of those systematic reviews that can only conclude that there isn't enough evidence. It's unlikely there ever will be as repositioning is so integral to good nursing care. I have never heard that this is controversial so I question the need for this review.

Public Health

This systematic review shows that repositioning is an integral component of pressure ulcer prevention and treatment. The meta-analysis pooled only 3 RCTs; this is an insufficient number to get conclusive results. Only one RCT was included to evaluate the cost-effectiveness analysis. The meta-analysis is well-designed, carefully executed and applied appropriate statistical analysis techniques.

Register for free access to all Professional content

Want the latest in aging research? Sign up for our email alerts.

Support for the Portal is largely provided by the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative. AGE-WELL is a contributing partner. Help us to continue to provide direct and easy access to evidence-based information on health and social conditions to help you stay healthy, active and engaged as you grow older. Donate Today.

© 2012 - 2020 McMaster University | 1280 Main Street West | Hamilton, Ontario L8S4L8 | +1 905-525-9140 | Terms Of Use