An intelligent liner designed to improve fitting of prosthetic legs will help relieve pain of NHS patients.
Developed by researchers at Southampton University, the device uses pressure sensors to determine the best fit for the prosthetic limb to help prevent tissue damage which leads to painful sores.
"Socket fit is the single biggest factor determining whether prosthesis will be successful for a patient,” said Liudi Jiang, of the University of Southampton.
"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.”
Prosthetics attached to the residual limb through a socket are the most common way of using artificial limbs. As no two stumps are identical, mass-produced sockets never fit perfectly well, causing discomfort, skin damage and eventually leading to ulceration.
"Mechanical forces during physical activities of the amputee can lead to breakdown of soft tissues at the stump, which can prove very difficult to heal and will inevitably result in distress for the patient," said Professor Dan Bader, an expert in tissue biomechanics and tissue sensor technology, who is also a member of the team.
Synthetic liners, worn like a sock over the stump, provide some cushioning against the hard socket, but at present there is no convenient way to accurately measure the critical loads at this interface to provide feedback to medical professionals. Adjusting a socket for an individual user thus becomes very difficult and only offers limited results.
The newly developed intelligent liner will allow clinicians to quickly and accurately assess and optimise socket fit at the outset and receive data about changes that occur over time.
A university spokesman said: "This relatively practical and potentially low-cost solution could substantially reduce amputees' follow-up visits to their rehabilitation centres, giving them a better quality of life and at the same time reducing healthcare costs.
"In future, the scientists believe the technology could form the basis for other intelligent materials, for example shoe insoles to prevent diabetic foot ulcers, or mattresses and wheelchairs that protect against pressure sores in immobile or elderly patients."
The team in hopes their work could eventually lead to a fully automatic self-adjusting smart socket interface for amputees.