Cover Image
close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 9: Women with Disabilities
close this folderTaking Care of Your Health
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentKnowing when you are sick
View the documentSkin care
View the documentExercise


If you have a disability, most of your health problems are probably no different from those of other women, and you can find information about them in other chapters in this book. But the following issues can be of special concern for women with disabilities, especially women with a loss of feeling in the body.

Knowing when you are sick

Some women with disabilities may find it difficult to tell when they have a health problem. For example, a woman who has an infection in her womb may not be able to feel pain from it But she may notice an unusual discharge or smell from her vagina that an infection can cause.

As a woman, you know and understand your body better than anyone else. So if you have an unusual feeling, or body reaction, or a pain somewhere, try to find out as soon as possible what might be causing it. If necessary, ask a family member, friend, or health worker to help.

Skin care

If you sit or lie down all or most of the time, you can develop pressure sores. These sores start when the skin over the bony parts of the body is pressed against a chair or bed. The blood vessels get squeezed shut, so that not enough blood can get to the skin.

¨ Pressure sores ore one of the main causes of death in persons with spinal cord injury.

If too much time passes without moving, a dark or red patch appears on the skin. If the pressure continues, an open sore can develop and work its way deeper into the body. Or the sore can start deep inside near the bone and gradually grow out to the surface. Without treatment, the skin can die.



For information on how to treat pressure sores.


· Try to move at least every 2 hours. If you lie down all the time, have someone help you change position.


· Lie or sit on a soft surface that reduces pressure on bony areas. A cushion or sleeping pad that has hollowed-out areas around the bony parts will help. Or make a simple cushion or sleeping pad from a plastic bag filled with uncooked beans and rice. It must be refilled with new rice and beans once a month.

· Examine your whole body carefully every day. You can use a mirror to look at your back. If you notice a dark or red place, try to avoid any pressure on this area until your skin returns to normal.

Examine your skin every day.

· Try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in protein.


· During monthly bleeding, do not use cloth or tampons inside your vagina to catch the blood. They can press against your bones from inside your body and cause a sore in your vagina.


· Try to bathe every day. Pat your skin dry, but do not rub it. Avoid lotions or oils, because they can make your skin soft and weaker. And never use alcohol on your skin.



Some women - for example, those who suffer from arthritis or strokes, or who are in bed because of AIDS or old age - have difficulty moving their arms and legs enough to keep their joints flexible. When this happens, and an arm or a leg is kept bent for a long time, some of the muscles become shorter and the limb cannot fully straighten. Or short muscles may hold a joint straight so that it cannot bend. This is called a ‘contracture’. Sometimes contractures cause pain.


To prevent contractures and keep your muscles strong, you need to find someone who can help you exercise your arms and legs every day. Try to make sure that every part of your body is moved. If you have had contractures for many years, it will be difficult to completely straighten your joints. But these exercises will prevent the contractures from getting worse and can make your joints a little less stiff and keep your muscles strong.

Examples of exercises that prevent some contractures and help keep muscles strong

To exercise the front of the upper leg

To exercise the bock of the upper leg

To exercise the lower leg

To exercise the arms

If a joint has been bent for a long time, be gentle. Do not try to force it straight