120202-N-AN650-001 Bethesda, Md. (Feb. 2, 2012) The Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) was developed as part of a four-year program by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, along with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The brain-controlled prosthetic has nearly as much dexterity as a natural limb, and allows independent movement of fingers. The MPL was used by wounded warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the first time Jan. 24, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Sarah Fortney/Released)

I’m a recent amputee who is having a lot of trouble getting used to my prosthetic. I appreciate that prosthetics have gotten so advanced over the years, but mine is uncomfortable! I have to wear it, but it hurts the skin where it touches my body. Do you have any advice?


Life is different when you’re missing a limb. You can still experience life to the fullest, as anyone who has experienced this knows well. But those of us who live without one or more limbs know that we have a few other things to think about that the typical person remains blissfully unaware of.


Those of us who rely on prosthetics know that they can be finicky things, prone to moisture damage and a host of other little problems. Getting ready to go places can take a bit longer, and airport security is even less fun (though it’s a little better if you know how to handle the TSA as an amputee). For those with prosthetics, there are plenty of reasons to always look for the next big thing or new technique prosthetics, hoping that it can make our lives a little easier.


Prosthetic liners are one of those things. Prosthetic liners have a simple job: they’re supposed to cushion the part of your body that comes into contact with your prosthetic, which (as you well know) can be hard and uncomfortable. But do they work? What sorts of materials should they be made of? And where can you get one? By way of answering your letter, let us answer some questions about prosthetic liners:


What are prosthetic liners made of?


Perhaps the most obvious question about prosthetic liners is: what are these things made of? The answers can vary widely. Pretty much anything that provides some cushion can serve as a prosthetic liner, but the best products are carefully designed, well fitted, and made of superior materials.


Everyday prosthetic socks can be made of knit cotton, much like any other sock that you’d buy at the store. They can also be made of sheerer materials, like thin athletic fabrics. Or they can be made of soft, warm wool. Which material you choose is a matter of preference. And just like with regular socks, you may find that you want to use different materials for different sorts of weather and different sorts of situations.


Prosthetic liner suspension


When you wear a sock on your foot, the shape of your foot keeps the thing on. Some socks also have elastic to help keep them in place. But when your limb is amputated, it ends in a shape that is not exactly ideal for keeping stretchy socks on. It’s all too easy for prosthetic liners to slip off or fall off. Some people may find that a good fit is all that they need in order to put these issues to rest, but others may need some kind of suspension system in order to keep their liners in place.


When it comes to suspension systems, you have a few options. Some systems use a vacuum seal to keep the liner in place. This works better with certain materials, and it’s not an option for everyone, but it lets you keep your liner in place without asking you to wear any additional gear.


A similar system is the suction lock, which combines a soft liner with a valve and sealing sleeve. Just like the vacuum option, this sucks the liner right onto your limb and keeps everything in place with a vacuum seal.


Finally, there are shuttle lock systems that make use of pins and, in some variations, straps. These secure your liner in place and keep you comfortable all day long.


Shopping for a prosthetic liner


These days, it is easier than ever to find the prosthetic liner that suits your needs. You can get remarkably customized products online, and often for better prices than you might be used to.


It may take some trial and error to find the right system and liner for you, but you’ll have plenty of help. Ask peers, check out message boards, consult with your doctor, and check out the websites of reliable prosthesis sleeve and lock system manufacturers. You’re sure to find a great solution.


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