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You have loss of sensation (feeling) in one or more areas of your body. This is also called an asensory condition. Some causes include stroke, spinal cord injury, and peripheral neuropathy. Loss of sensation means that you may be unable to feel pain, heat, or cold. This makes you more likely to injure yourself and not know it. However, you can take steps to protect your health and reduce your risk of injury. This sheet gives you tips on how to prevent common injuries that can occur due to loss of sensation.
Pain is a warning signal. It tells you that injury is occurring. A person feeling pain often reacts automatically by pulling away from the source of injury. For example, someone who puts a hand on a hot stove will jerk the hand away immediately when they feel the pain. This response helps prevent severe injury. Loss of sensation, however, takes this warning signal away. If you have lost sensation, you may leave your hand on the hot stove. The resulting burn will be very severe.
In addition, loss of sensation can mean losing awareness of where your body is in space. For example, your arm may hang beside your wheelchair instead of resting in your lap. Unless you look directly at your arm, you may not realize this. If you move the wheelchair and the arm gets caught in the wheel, a cut or muscle tear can result.
Being aware of your body and the potential hazards around you will go a long way toward keeping you safe. In general:
When you are in a new place, look around for potential sources of injury. Always look for heat or cold sources or sharp objects. Be careful not to touch them accidentally.
Regularly check the position of your arms and legs. Look to be sure they are not in danger of being injured.
If you are in a wheelchair, look at the position of your hands and feet before you move. This prevents them from getting caught or pinched.
Burns—from heat or cold—are a common source of injury. If you cannot feel hot or cold, you are at greater risk for burns. To help stay safe, keep these tips in mind as you go about your day:
Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water before you get into a tub or shower.
Cover your hands with thick oven mitts when cooking or using the stove.
Never place a hot plate directly on your lap or hold a hot or iced drink with bare hands.
Wear protective gloves and use care when handling products containing chemicals that can harm your skin, such as laundry bleach.
Apply sunscreen to avoid sunburn when outdoors. If you’re outdoors in hot weather, stay in shaded areas when possible.
In cold weather, protect your hands with insulated gloves or mittens. Protect your feet with wool socks and boots.
If you have lost sensation in your feet, you must take special care of them. Minor injuries can quickly get worse if not treated. To protect your feet:
Check your feet daily for wounds and other injuries. Inspect (or have your caregiver inspect) the top and bottom of your feet, your heels, and between your toes. It may help to use a mirror. Look for hot spots, blisters or sores, skin color changes, or cracks.
Wear socks and well-fitting, protective shoes. Don’t wear open-toed shoes or high heels. Never go barefoot.
Before putting on your shoes, check inside for any loose objects such as pebbles.
Ask if you need to see your healthcare provider for toenail, corn, or callus trimming.
Wash your feet with warm, not hot, water and soap. Don’t soak or scrub your feet.
Dry your feet well, especially between your toes.
Use lotion to moisten dry, cracked feet. But don’t use lotion between your toes.
Loss of sensation makes falls much more likely. Here are a few ways to help prevent falls:
Make sure rooms have proper lighting. That way, you can see where you’re going and can avoid obstacles. Add nightlights to halls, bedroom, and bathrooms. Put light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.
Keep floors and hallways clear of small objects that may cause you to trip. Remove any throw rugs and tape down electrical cords.
Use mobility aids such as a wheelchair, walker, or cane, as instructed.
Pressure ulcers are open wounds that occur due to skin breakdown. They can form when pressure on the skin is not relieved. Pressure ulcers are common in people who are confined to a bed or wheelchair. To prevent pressure ulcers, do the following:
Change positions often. Your healthcare provider can teach you the best ways to do this safely. If you’re seated or in a wheelchair, you may need to change positions and shift your weight every 20–30 minutes to relieve pressure. If you’re lying down, you may need to do this every 1–2 hours.
Use pressure-relieving aids. These can be prescribed or recommended by your healthcare provider. Special mattress pads and wheelchair cushions are available. Cushions can help protect your tailbone, back, and heels. These three areas are at high risk for pressure ulcers.
Check skin daily. Look for redness, bruises, cuts, and other irritations, especially over bony areas. You or your caregiver should do skin checks as part of your daily routine.
Contact your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:
A fall, even if you feel okay
A bruise, cut, burn, or sore in an area without sensation
A fever over 100.4°F
Signs of a pressure ulcer (redness that doesn’t go away or skin breakdown)