Patient support surfaces - active or reactive?

As an industry, we have a responsibility that goes beyond ourselves — we must consider the mobility needs of our patients. Of the many mobility solutions available, support surfaces have become an industry mainstay.

As you seek out the best methods for keeping patients mobile, understanding support surfaces is an important step in developing strategies that help to minimise the occurrence of hospital-acquired conditions.


In an effort to bring clarity to the use and understanding of support surfaces, the Support Surface Standards Initiative (S3I), a subcommittee of the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP), developed terminology, test methods, and reporting standards. According to the terms and definitions published in 2007, a support surface is a specialized device for pressure redistribution and is designed for the management of tissue loads, microclimates, and/or other therapeutic functions1.

The definitions break down support surfaces into two categories: reactive and active.

  • A reactive surface is a powered or non-powered support surface with the capability to change its load distribution properties only in response to an applied load1.
  • An active support surface is a powered support surface with the capability to change its load distribution properties, with or without an applied1 load.

Choosing the correct surface requires clinicians to consider a wide range of factors, including the patient’s pain level, the amount/type of treatment interventions, the presence of hemodynamic instability, whether or not the patient is able to be repositioned, etc.

We recognise the pervasive impact that immobility can have on the entire patient experience. It’s why at Arjo we have always been committed to developing solutions for the care of people with reduced mobility and related conditions. Our comprehensive portfolio of integrated and non-integrated support surfaces covers the entire range of reactive and active therapy approaches to pressure redistribution. With access to a variety of mattress options, clinicians are better equipped to keep patients active and mobile. As we consider our options for support surfaces, let’s work together to bring quality mobility opportunities to those who need them most.

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1. The Support Surface Standards Initiative. “Terms and Definitions Related to Support Surfaces.” National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, 29 Jan. 2007., Accessed 20 March, 2018.