Open Access Open Badges Research article

Leg ulcer nursing care in the community: a prospective cohort study of the symptom of pain

Elizabeth G VanDenKerkhof12*, Wilma M Hopman34, Meg E Carley1, Janet L Kuhnke5 and Margaret B Harrison14

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

2 Department of Anesthesiology, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

3 Clinical Research Centre, Kingston General Hospital, Kingston, OntarioCanada

4 Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen’s University, Kingston, OntarioCanada

5 St. Lawrence College/Laurentian University, Cornwall, OntarioCanada

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BMC Nursing 2013, 12:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-12-3

Published: 6 February 2013



Chronic wounds are managed almost entirely by community nurses. Almost all individuals with leg ulcers report acute pain usually related to dressing change. Little is known about pain after healing. The purpose of this study was to explore the course of pain from baseline to time of healing of leg ulcers (venous or mixed etiology). In order to understand this phenomenon and develop implications for nursing practice, objectives included: 1) Measure incidence and prevalence of pain at baseline and healing; 2) Describe characteristics associated with leg ulcer pain at baseline; 3) Identify predictors of leg ulcer pain at healing.


Data were from one randomized controlled trial (2004-2008) of 424 individuals with leg ulcers in the community receiving evidence-informed nursing management. The primary outcome was pain at the time of healing. Predictive factors included demographic, circumstance of living, clinical and ulcer characteristics. Multivariable logistic regression identified the subset of predictors of pain at healing. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) are reported.


Eighty-two percent of participants reported pain at baseline and 32% at healing. Five percent with no pain at baseline reported pain at healing. Thirty-seven percent reported moderate to severe pain at baseline and 11% at healing. Twenty percent of all those who healed reported pain interfered with work moderately to extremely at time of healing. Being female (OR=1.64, 95% CI 1.00, 2.68, p=0.05), use of short-stretch vs. four-layer bandages (OR=1.73, 95% CI 1.06, 2.82, p=0.03), lower SF-12 PCS (OR=0.97, 95% CI 0.94, 0.99, p=0.02) and MCS (OR=0.98, 95% CI 0.95-1.00, p=0.04) scores, use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (OR=2.28, 95% CI 1.06, 4.88, p=0.03), and tender pain (OR=2.17, 95% CI 1.29, 3.66, p=<0.01) were associated with pain at time of healing.


Pain is an issue on admission for chronic wounds and at healing, yet 58% with moderate to severe pain on admission were not taking pain medication(s). Future studies should examine the role of pain at healing and at subsequent ulcer recurrence. Mobility and other factors that may contribute to pain at time of healing should also be assessed. Community nurses are encouraged to consider pain when planning care on admission and also after wound healing, when most patients are discharged from care.

Trial registration, NCT00202267

Pain; Health-related quality of life; Chronic conditions; Leg ulcers; Community care nursing; Longitudinal study, Canada