Hesperian Health Guides

Taking Care of Your Health

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 9: Women with Disabilities > Taking Care of Your Health

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

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

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.

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.


See information on wound care and 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.
a woman lying on her side and using a mirror to look at her back
Examine your skin
every day.
  • 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.
  • Try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in protein.
More Information
eating for good health
  • 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.

a woman with contractures that keep her leg from straightening at the knee and ankle


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
1. bend a woman on her back with one leg bent up at the knee and the other flat 2. straighten the same woman with one leg straightened and raised and the other still flat
To exercise the back of the upper leg
1. benda woman lying face down with one leg flat while the other is lifted from the knee 2. straightenthe same woman with both legs lying flat
To exercise the lower leg
1. point the toe up
a woman on her back with one lower leg propped on a rolled blanket, with toes pointing up
2. and then relax
the same woman with toes relaxed
To exercise the arms bend
a woman lying in bed while another woman helps to bend her arm at the elbow
the same woman with her arm straight at her side
lift straight up
the same woman with her arm raised straight up from the shoulder
IMPORTANT! If a joint has been bent for a long time, be gentle. Do not try to force it straight.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019