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Medical Beds Types

Medical beds are adjustable by height and by raising/lowering the head and lower body areas for the comfort and needs of the patient. People who are immobile or spend most of the day in bed may require medical beds that have more positions and options available to prevent pressure or bed sores.  There are 3 main types of medical beds (manual, semi-electric and full electric) and others that are more specialized (such as bariatric beds).

Manual: Hand cranks are used to raise and lower the head and the foot of the bed as well as to adjust the height of the bed. These beds are the most economical and a good choice for people that do not require frequent repositioning. Hand cranks are typically found at the foot of the bed and require a person that is physically capable to operate.

Semi-electric: An electric motor is used to raise and lower the head and foot portions of the bed. Patients and caregivers adjust the positioning by pressing buttons on a hand pendant. The height of the bed is adjusted manually with a hand crank and will require someone that is physically able use it. Semi-electric beds are ideal for people that do not require the height of the bed to be adjusted often but will benefit from touch of a button positioning.

Full Electric: Height and positioning of the bed is controlled by the patient and/or caregiver with a hand pendant and does not require the use of a hand crank (unless there is a power outage, but many beds now have a back-up battery that would power the bed in emergency situations). Full electric beds make it easier for patients to get in and out of bed or raise the bed to a comfortable height for the caregiver to tend to the patient or to change linens. Often full electric beds have more positions available such as Trendelenburg, reverse Trendelenburg and cardiac chair positions.

  • Trendelenburg position: The position where the patient is lying on flat on their back and the bed deck and mattress are tilted so the patient’s feet are higher than their head by 15 to 30 degrees. Trendelenburg position may help with circulation.
  • Reverse Trendelenburg (anti-Trendelenburg) position: The position where the patient is lying flat on their back and tilted so that their head is positioned higher than the feet by 15 to 30 degrees. This position may help with pressure relief and breathing.
  • Cardiac chair: Cardiac chairs were first designed to help people recover from heart surgery or respiratory illnesses. Studies have shown that heart surgery patients tend to recover faster when they spend a portion of the day in an upright, seated position but have to reach that position slowly and with the least amount of movement. It is easier for patients to breathe and circulation may be improved in a seated position. Cardiac chairs move from a flat position into a seated position with minimal movement to the patient and at a speed controlled by the patient or caregiver. A hospital bed with this position available means that the bed can reach an upright, seated position in the same way.


Medical beds do not come with mattresses unless they are part of a package. For patients that are immobile or spend the majority of their day in bed, selecting the correct mattress that would lessen the incidence of bed sores is very important.

Bed sores are also known as pressure ulcers/sores or decubitus (lying in bed) ulcers/sores and are painful injuries to the skin and the tissues under the skin. They commonly occur in weight bearing areas of the body that are susceptible to pressure, moisture, shear, friction or a combination of any of these factors. When a patient is lying down, bed sores are common on the heels, sacrum, elbows, shoulder blades and the back of the head. In a reclined position, shear forces may cause bed sores to the back of the head, shoulder blades, sacrum and friction forces may cause bed sores to the patient’s bottom and heels.

Bed sores occur when there is a lack of blood flow to the skin. When blood pressure is low or lacking to the skin, it is not receiving nutrients nor is the waste material removed from the area and the skin/tissue begins to break down and die.

Before purchasing a mattress for a medical bed, consult an expert to determine the risk level of the patient for bed sores. There are 4 main types of mattresses and the right one for the patient depends on their risk level for bed sores. This is determined by assessments such as the Braden or Norton scales.

Types of Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses feel more like traditional mattresses and are economical. These mattresses can increase pressure and temperature in certain areas causing bed sores if the patient is immobile or spends the majority of the day in bed. Innerspring mattresses are not recommended for patients that spend more than 10 hours a day in bed. For these reasons, innerspring mattresses are not a popular choice anymore for hospital beds.

Therapeutic foam mattresses are designed to alleviate pressure on the areas of the body that commonly develop bed sores. These mattresses have softer foam in pressure point areas of the body (such as heads, heels, elbow, etc.) and more rigid foam around the edges of the mattress.

Alternating pressure mattresses consist of individual air cells and manages pressure and skin moisture by inflating and deflating these air cells. These mattresses relieve pressure points and improve blood flow and circulation. It helps prevent bed sores and promotes the healing of existing sores.

Low air-loss mattresses, similar to alternating pressure mattresses, consist of individual air cells that alternate inflation and deflation to relieve pressure points on the patient’s body. The difference is that each of the cells in this type of mattress have tiny holes that release small amounts of air that cools hot spots and controls the skin moisture levels on the patient’s body. These mattresses provide ideal pressure and skin moisture conditions for the patient, especially those that are prone or have a history of bed sores.