Researchers have developed a new type of pressure sensor – dubbed a “second skin” – which they say could prevent dangerous sores. The technology is being developed initially for amputees who suffer rubbing against their artificial limbs.
If the Southampton University work is successful the sensors may also be used for others at risk, such as wheelchair-users and those confined to bed. The new technology could be available to NHS patients within three years.
Pressure sensors are already used, but this Medical Research Council-backed project – in partnership with the prosthetics firm Blatchford – differs in that it is able to detect rubbing as well as downward pressure. This could make it better at detecting sores at an earlier stage.
Richard Bradbury, 26, who is a technician at Blatchford and had an amputation below his right knee soon after he was born and then above the knee in his teens, has long experience of discomfort caused by pressure and rubbing against his prosthetic limb.
“When I was younger and getting bigger and growing more I had up to four or five legs a year. And because you’re getting bigger you’re not going into the socket as much. And it can rub, it can create sores, blisters.”
It is thought there are about 50,000 lower limb amputees in the UK. A report in 2000 by the Audit Commission said nearly one in four did not use their prosthetic limbs as much as they would like – often because of pain and discomfort.