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When it comes to a prosthetic device, one element plays a crucial role that many people often overlook – the below-knee suspension sleeve. Understanding how it works and taking good care of it can make a world of difference in how you use and interact with your device.

Read on to get the full scoop on these sleeves, their materials, and upkeep. Plus, we’ll offer some expert advice from the Horizon Orthotic & Prosthetic Experience team.

What’s a Suspension Sleeve?

A below-knee suspension sleeve acts like a bridge between the socket of your prosthetic device and your residual limb. It’s designed to seal in air, helping to adhere the device to your limb. This tight fit minimizes excessive movement while still allowing your knee some freedom and mobility.

The materials used to make these sleeves can vary significantly. Here are some of the most common materials:

  • Neoprene
  • Silicone Gel
  • Thermoplastic elastomer
  • Urethane

It’s important to note that how you apply your sleeve is essential to its effectiveness. Incorrect application can lead to skin irritation, and regular replacement is necessary when you notice wear and tear. Always keep an eye out for signs of damage like tears and holes, as these could compromise the sleeve’s suction ability.

The Consultation Process

Before getting a suspension sleeve, a consultation with a professional prosthetist is essential. This meeting allows the prosthetist to understand your specific needs, lifestyle, and comfort preferences, which guides their recommendations for the best type of suspension sleeve for you.

During a consultation at Align Clinic, we:

  • Assess Your Condition: This involves examining your residual limb, understanding your daily activity levels, and discussing any discomfort or issues you may currently have with your prosthesis.
  • Discuss Options: We explain the different types of sleeves, their materials, and how they might suit your needs. We also provide information on the costs and what might be covered by your health insurance.
  • Measure and Fit: If a sleeve is the right option for you, we measure your limb and the prosthesis to ensure the best fit. We also guide you on how to correctly apply and remove the sleeve.
  • Follow-up: After you’ve had some time to use the sleeve, we schedule a follow-up appointment to check in on your progress, make any necessary adjustments, and address any concerns.

Caring for Your Suspension Sleeve

To get the most mileage out of your below-knee suspension sleeve, proper care is vital. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Hand wash your sleeve each week and dry it with a towel. Refrain from putting it in the dryer.
  • When storing, avoid folding your sleeve as this can cause creasing.
  • Don’t stretch or pull your sleeve during application. Carefully roll the sleeve over your limb.
  • If you spot any holes or tears, get in touch with your prosthetist for a replacement. A noticeable loss of suction or vacuum is a telltale sign of damage.

Other Suspension Techniques

In addition to suspension sleeves, there are other popular techniques that prosthetists employ to ensure a secure connection between you and your prosthesis. One such technique is the use of Suction Systems or Vacuum Systems, like the Ottobock’s Harmony System.

Unpacking Prosthetic Pin Locking Systems

Beyond suspension sleeves, another common system you might come across is the mechanical pin lock system. Here, a pin attached to the distal liner is inserted into a lock mechanism, creating the interface for suspension. This system, clinically referred to as the Below Knee Prosthesis with a Pin Locking Liner, can be used with a variety of socket designs.

How to Properly Fit a Suspension Sleeve

Fitting your suspension sleeve correctly is crucial to ensure comfort, avoid skin irritation, and maximize the functionality of your prosthesis.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean Your Residual Limb: Your limb should be clean and dry before applying the sleeve. This helps the sleeve fit comfortably and reduces the risk of irritation.
  2. Check the Sleeve: Examine the sleeve for any damage, including holes or tears. This could affect the sleeve’s ability to create an effective seal.
  3. Apply the Sleeve: Start by rolling the sleeve onto your limb. Avoid pulling or stretching it excessively. The sleeve should cover the socket and extend up onto your thigh, creating an airtight seal.
  4. Ensure Proper Fit: The sleeve should feel snug but not too tight. You should be able to move comfortably without any pinching or restriction.

Remember, the process might require some trial and error to get it right. Consult your prosthetist if you encounter any difficulties or discomfort.

Putting On and Taking Off the Prosthesis

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to don and doff your prosthetic device:

  1. Turn the liner inside out, ensuring it’s clean, dry, and free from irritants.
  2. Align the bottom end of the liner with your limb, applying light pressure to roll it over your limb. Avoid air pockets between the liner and the skin.
  3. Make sure the pin on the liner aligns with your limb. Be cautious not to pierce the liner with the pin.
  4. Add a prosthetic sock over the liner, if necessary, then push your residual limb into the prosthetic socket until the pin locks in place.
  5. To remove, simply push and hold the lock button in and lift the limb out of the socket.

Keeping Your Prosthesis in Top Shape

In addition to the steps above, regular cleaning and maintenance of your prosthesis are crucial. Clean your prosthetic socks, sheaths, and the soft insert as needed, following the manufacturer’s directions. Also, remember that wearing a fresh sock every day is a must.

If you ever feel stuck or experience difficulty releasing the pin, don’t panic. Often, it’s a sock covering the pin that’s causing the issue. Persistent pulling should free the pin. In extreme cases, pouring soapy water into the liner to break the suction can help.

Understanding the Costs

Below-knee suspension sleeves vary in price depending on several factors including the material, brand, and specific features. As a rough guide, these can cost anywhere between $30 to $150 or more. However, it’s important to remember that investing in a quality sleeve can potentially save you money in the long run, reducing the need for frequent replacements and offering better overall comfort and functionality.

Consider the following points when budgeting for your sleeve:

  • Material: Neoprene sleeves are usually cheaper than silicone or urethane. However, these latter materials often offer greater durability and comfort.
  • Brand: Certain brands may charge a premium for their products due to their reputation, quality, and additional services such as custom fitting or comprehensive aftercare.
  • Health Insurance: Some health insurance plans may cover part or all of the cost of a suspension sleeve. It’s worth checking with your provider to understand your coverage.

Align Clinic is Here to Help

Understanding your prosthetic device, including the integral role of suspension sleeves, can make a world of difference in your comfort and overall experience.

At Align Clinic, we’re dedicated to providing top-notch guidance and customized solutions that cater to your specific needs.

Have more questions or looking to get a prosthetic device for you or a loved one? Get in touch with us to schedule a consultation. Let’s work together to help you live a fulfilled, active lifestyle!​