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Intelligent Liner Aims to Improve Prosthetic Limb Comfort

Leg amputee

(Veterans Health Administration)

15 April 2014. Engineers in the U.K. at University of Southampton and Chas A Blatchford & Son Ltd. in Basingstoke are designing a liner with sensors for lower-limb prosthetic devices that improve the fit and comfort of those devices for their wearers. The team is developing a prototype device that they aim to have available for patients in the U.K.’s National Health Service in about three years.

The prototype device will help identify and measure the forces pressing and pulling from the prosthetic socket on the wearer’s stump. “Socket fit is the single biggest factor determining whether prosthesis will be successful for a patient,” says Southampton engineering lecturer Liudi Jiang in a university statement. “If we had a simple way to accurately measure the load at the socket-stump interface and determine the best possible fit for that limb, it would completely transform the socket fit experience for amputees.”

Jiang, an electrical engineer, is designing the pressure sensors to be built into a liner worn over the lower-limb stump. Many prosthetic devices now have liners to cushion the device on the stump. No two stumps are the same size or shape, however, and in some cases the stumps can even change in shape over the course of a day. Pressures building up on an ill-fitting stump can cause sores and tissue damage.

Dan Bader, a biomedical engineer at Southampton on the development team, is designing sensors to assess the health of the tissue on the stump. The liner is expected to be worn over the stump, as is done today, but the sensors would make it possible for clinicians to to make immediate adjustments in the prosthetic device to improve comfort for the wearer.

In addition, the liner would monitor changes in socket fit over time, feeding a stream of data from the prosthetic device to a wireless receiver. The monitoring of the device’s fit would enable clinicians to make adjustments sooner than is done today, thus avoiding pressures to build up and cause skin sores. This function alone could make the liners a low-cost solution to a common problem for amputees, requiring frequent returns to rehabilitation centers and extra costs.

The university team is collaborating on the project with Chas A Blatchford & Sons, a manufacturer of prosthetic devices. Company staff are expected to help integrate the sensors into thin liners that work with sockets of any size. The researchers believe their technology can be extended to shoe insoles to prevent diabetic foot ulcers and with mattresses and wheel chairs to prevent bed sores with immobile patients.

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