Sweat and Prosthetics
by Amber Henson, on Jan 13, 2020
It’s not glamourous. It might be the opposite of glamourous. But the day may come where you have to “drain your arm.”
We get it. It’s already a lot to deal with to be down one hand or arm. And now you have to futz with the sweat that builds up inside your prosthetic device for the rest of your life (possibly — see below).
Let’s begin with the benefits of sweat. Sweat’s purpose is to help cool our bodies. The thin layer of moisture on our skin, once exposed to air, cools the body down as the sweat evaporates. We need it. The unfortunate situation with prosthetic devices, though, is that the sweat can become trapped. But, for those who wear an electric prosthesis, sweat helps with the conduction of muscle signals for control of the prosthetic device.
Incidentally, something that all individuals with a limb difference should keep in mind is that hands help regulate body temperature. An amputation of an upper limb reduces one’s capacity to regulate their temperature, meaning that paying closer attention to environmental changes in temperature is imperative.
Back to sweat. If you are getting tired of having to drain your arm similar to how a trombonist needs to use a “spit valve,” or having your socket slip due to sweat, there are a few options:
While these are marketed to be used on armpits, they can actually be used on any part of the body that produces more sweat than one may appreciate. If regular strength isn’t cutting it, there are some prescription-grade antiperspirants you can get over the counter (Drysol, Xerac, Certian Dri), or you can talk to your doctor about getting a prescription. Prescription-strength antiperspirants are often applied at bedtime and take some time to build up to work effectively — please read the instructions carefully. Another reason to apply antiperspirants (and creams) at night is because the chemicals may damage the socket if you apply them right before donning your prosthesis.
Aluminum chloride cream
This is the key ingredient in antiperspirants. Some people prefer to use the cream directly. Again, be sure to follow all instructions.
Botox blocks the nerves connected to the skin. There are other nerve blocking injections available as well, beyond Botox. Talk to your primary physician or your prosthetist to learn more.
Keep in mind that the salt in sweat can break down the componentry in your prosthetic device (similar to how cars rust when salt is used on icy roads). Be sure that you know the proper way to care for your prosthetic device, cleaning it and drying it after working out or sweating profusely to make sure to minimize any damage caused by sweat. You can ask your prosthetist for more information about how best to care for your device(s).
Do you know a fellow amputee who doesn’t sweat? Keep in mind that those who have primarily grafted skin on their residual limb do not have the connected nerves to be able to sweat. Or it may just be that their skin is different from yours — all our bodies react differently.
Whatever choice you make, be sure to not let the sweat build up inside your prosthetic. Not only will this possibly damage your prosthesis, it can lead to skin breakdown as well.
Is sweat a problem for you? What do you do to combat the issue? What tips do you have for your fellow amputees — or what tips would you like to hear from us? Let us know in the comments below!
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