Smart textile arm sleeve aims to relieve lymphoedema

Engineers at Nottingham Trent University are leading the development of a smart textile arm cover that uses electrical stimulation to reduce swelling and discomfort for patients with lymphedema.

Wrap hand and arm lymphedema with multi-layer dressings to control lymphedema (Image: AdobeStock)

Lymphedema, which affects up to 250 million people worldwide, is a chronic condition caused by fluid buildup in the soft tissues of the body, usually in the arms or legs, without a cure or proven pharmaceutical treatment.


According to Nottingham Trent, the new sleeve will be a highly breathable fabric with integrated and flexible circuit boards and electrodes. The circuit (100 microns thick, 5 mm wide) will be designed with low power consumption in mind, researchers said, and batteries will be used for ease of use for patients — however, the team said investigating energy harvesting from exercise or temperature could be a future possibility.

It is being created in partnership with the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and £450,000 in EPSRC funding.

The sleeve – durable and washable, and adapted to different patients – will increase the circulation of the lymphatic system, the network of ducts and glands that drain excess fluid in the body.

The current recommended treatment combines specialized massage and compression bandages, skin care and decongestant exercises, which, according to the researchers, are intensive and affect the patient’s autonomy.

Compression garments worn on a daily basis are often prescribed to patients to reduce swelling in the arm, but the researchers said they can be inconvenient and a nuisance to patients, and their effectiveness may be variable.

A recent survey found that 80 percent of participants felt that compression treatments interfered with their work and daily activities due to limited physical movement and that it was difficult to find clothing that would fit over the compression.

Effectiveness also varied as it was affected by washing and wearing and as such patients had to visit health care providers regularly to check the clothing, putting an additional burden on them and the NHS.

The Nottingham team explained that the electronics will be made in a strip form (electronic strip or e-strip) which will then be encapsulated to protect against wear and wax damage. Electrodes are printed directly onto fabric to form a strong bond, and the materials are waterproof. Researchers noted that several materials will be further explored to extend washability.

The project will initially develop technology for the arm before adapting it to other parts of the body, such as leg, chest, face and neck.

“More than 200,000 people are affected by lymphedema each year in the UK alone,” said study researcher Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology

“While there are some treatments to reduce pain and discomfort, their long-term effectiveness in treating the problem rather than addressing a symptom is uncertain,” he said in a statement. “There is a need for an effective device in a convenient and portable format that can be used by patients at home to improve their quality of life.

“This will be a groundbreaking smart medical textile garment that is effective, unobtrusive and easy to use, stimulates lymphatic circulation and significantly improves the treatment of patients with lymphedema.”

The team told The mechanic that early work has shown that a square wave with a maximum of 30 mA at a low frequency works well with the lymphatic system and has shown a 60 percent improvement. However, for safety reasons, the applied voltage is limited to less than 100 V-rms.

Industry partners are involved in the project Electra Polymers LtdHaddenham Healthcare Ltd and medi GmbH

Additional reporting by Melissa Bradshaw

Abhishek Maheswari
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