Therapeutic Support Surfaces – From Pressure Pads to Low Air-Loss Mattresses

According to the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses (WOCN) Society, over 1 million people in the US develop pressure ulcers each year.1  One of the most proven methods to prevent and treat pressure ulcers is through the use of a therapeutic support surface.

Therapeutic support surfaces can be split into to two main types:

1)      Group I - Static mattresses

2)      Group II - Dynamic mattresses


Group I Static Mattresses

Group I products are non-powered foam, or low-density mattresses that either replace an existing mattress or rest on top of an existing mattress. The most basic Group I mattresses are lightweight and consist of an inner support system made from one or more types of foam with an outer cover that protects the mattress from moisture, fluids and bacteria. Some Group I mattresses use air or gel, like the ROHO Prodigy Mattress Overlay, which is made of over 100  air cells that help distribute the patient’s weight, while others are made from the patented Tempur-Pedic® foam found in many traditional mattresses.


Group II Dynamic Mattresses

Group II products are powered and use sophisticated electronics and pumps to control the pressure and airflow to the mattress, typically comprised of multiple inflatable air bladders.

Within the Group II classification of dynamic mattresses, the mattresses provide three distinct types of therapy:

1) Alternating pressure therapy

2) Low air-loss therapy

3) Lateral rotation therapy

Alternating Pressure Therapy

Alternating pressure refers to the inflation and deflation of the mattress’s air cells in order to provide the patient pressure redistribution that helps in the treatment and prevention of Stage I to Stage IV pressure ulcers. The pump system of the mattress continuously operates through pre-programmed cycles that increase and decrease pressure.

Alternating pressure mattresses are typically the most economical Group II support surfaces. Some systems are designed to replace a normal mattress and fit on most home care beds, while others are overlaid on top of an existing mattress. These systems use a compressor that continually monitors air pressure in the mattress and maintains the appropriate level of pressure. Most units are 8” thick, use LED displays, operate in 10 minute programmable cycles, have adjustable pressure settings, offer low-pressure and power loss alarms, and offer maximum firm modes for patient transfer and emergency treatment.

Low Air-Loss Therapy

Many Group II therapeutic support surfaces use low air-loss mattresses and many health care professionals generally refer to therapy mattresses as “low air-loss” mattresses.

Low air loss systems incorporate a semi-permeable mattress that allows air to slowly escape the mattress surface. The benefit of low air-loss mattresses lies in their ability to promote a dry healing environment while keeping the skin cool. The escaping air aids in the evaporation of moisture on the skin.

Low air loss mattresses also offer the ability to alternate pressure throughout zones in the mattress system just like the more basic alternating pressure mattress but with the added benefit of a cooler and dryer sleep surface.


Lateral Rotation Therapy

Some of the most advanced therapeutic support surfaces use sophisticated programming and miniaturized pumps and solenoid valves that work in concert to effectively rotate a patient. Air cells inflate and deflate in a sequence which simulates the unconscious rolling, or shifting motion experienced by most people. This gentle turning and rotation helps ensure that a patient at risk of pressure ulcers will achieve the best possible pressure relief. Most high-end lateral rotation systems also feature low air-loss capability to wick away moisture.

Therapeutic mattresses, from simple Group I static foam mattresses to sophisticated Group II dynamic mattresses, are the most reliable way of preventing and treating pressure ulcers. Whether choosing foam mattress topper or a lateral rotation therapy mattress, therapeutic support surfaces are the caregiver’s go-to product to combat pressure ulcers.


Please always consult with your doctor to choose the therapeutic support surface or mattress that is best for you.  With one of the broadest selections on the web for health and wellness products, you can always rely on for all of your personal care and special condition needs.

1) Gibbons, Shanks, Kleinhelter, Jones, Eliminating Facility-Acquired

Pressure Ulcers at Ascension Health, Sept. 2006 Volume 32 Number 9.