Reactive vs. active pressure relieving mattresses

2 minute(s) to read

Knowing how to prevent and care for pressure injuries with the right support surface can make a world of difference to your client’s comfort and wellbeing.

Support surfaces are carefully designed to redistribute the pressure applied to a person’s body. Support surfaces can either increase the body surface area that comes in contact with the surface, or can sequentially alter the parts of the body that bear load, this helps reduce shear and friction. Depending on your client’s needs and ability there are two types of support surfaces, reactive and active that can provide pressure care.

Reactive (non-powered) support surfaces

A pressure relieving mattress (foam or hybrid) prevents the development of pressure injuries, by reducing the interface pressure, and by using immersion and envelopment. An individual can still be treated on a pressure redistributing mattress, however, it is not as effective as an alternating air mattress for curing an open wound.

Envelopment is the area of contact of the individual with the mattress. Immersion is how far the individual is sinking into the mattress.

By having a good balance of immersion and envelopment the pressure is evenly spread across the body of the individual. This balance will remove pressure away from bony prominences and areas such as the shoulders, sacrum and heels that would normally have high interface pressure on them.

Active (powered) support surfaces

An alternating air mattress is a powered support surface that provides a form of treatment and cure for pressure injuries. Air mattresses redistribute pressure several times each hour by changing interface pressure points across the body, even if the individual doesn’t move. Each air cell moves in a cycle where they cyclically inflate and deflate which helps redistribute pressure, maintaining and stimulating the flow of bloody and lymphatic fluids through the tissue to provide essential oxygen and remove metabolic waste products.

Air mattresses should be used for the following individuals:

  • Those at high risk of developing a pressure ulcer and where frequent manual repositioning is not possible. For example, if they can’t tolerate it, or have a high level of pain when manual repositioning occurs
  • Those who have current skin breakdown and/or pressure injuries


Explore our range of reactive and active support surfaces and find the right solution for your client. 

If you would like to find out more about pressure care support surfaces then contact us.