A team of medical engineers at Cornell University has developed a knitted glove that is designed to treat hand edema, where fluid accumulation leads to swelling in the hands. The condition can make it difficult for patients to perform daily activities, and current treatment often involves receiving a manual edema massage performed by a trained healthcare worker. However, this is time consuming, expensive, and requires patients to attend regular appointments. This new technology is intended for at-home use, and consists of a knitted glove with in-built robotic actuators that can gently squeeze the hand. The actuations occur consecutively to shunt fluid from the fingertips back to the proximal portion of the hand, helping to reduce edema.
Hand edema involves swelling of the hand and fingers and can be caused by injury or certain conditions. The swelling is not just uncomfortable but can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily activities, particularly tasks that require a high level of finger dexterity. At present, the edema is treated through manual edema massage, where a physical therapist will work with the hand to help move the accumulated fluid back out of the tissue. This is not only expensive, but inconvenient and time consuming for patients.
There have been some efforts to create technological solutions, such as pneumatic sleeves that work on a similar principle as blood pressure cuffs, but current versions of such devices can be bulky and inconvenient to use. To address this, these researchers have developed a knitted glove, which they call KnitDema, that can fill-in for a physical therapist.
“Instead of having to schedule a hard-to-get visit with a therapist for manual edema massage, we envision this as something that people could take home with them,” said Cindy Kao, a researcher involved in the study. “They would go to their rehab doctor and their occupational or physical therapist once, and at that session they would be able to configure the right amount of compression for daily use, then adjust as necessary.”
The glove is a machine knit textile that can be customized for individual patients in terms of hand size and shape. It also contains shape memory alloy springs as actuators. Cleverly, the actuators work sequentially, beginning at the finger tip and progressing back along the finger to shunt the fluid away.
“It also allows for use any time that is convenient for the patient – often when symptoms are worst for the individual,” said Joan Stilling, another researcher involved in the project. “In addition, each device is personalized for each person through the digital machine knitting, allowing for a customized fit, which is not readily available through standard treatment options on the market.”
See a video about the technology below.
The researchers were scheduled to present the research at the ACM CHI ’23 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Hamburg, Germany.