'Infinite Socket' device offers amputees customized, comfortable approach to prosthetics

Despite the many technological advances in the field of prosthetics, amputees still face an obstacle when it comes to the comfort of the socket, or the actual molded cup that meets the artificial lower limb. Currently, the socket is a fixed mold that cannot be altered on the go to better fit a patient’s needs, often leading to shortened activity. Now, California-based company LIM Innovations is seeking to change that with their “Infinite Socket,” a device that offers lower limb amputees interchangeable and adjustable parts for added comfort and support.

“A regular socket is basically the same as a wood shoe, and our socket is like a brand new cross trainer,” Dr. Andrew Pedtke, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Regional Medical Center of San Jose and CEO of LIM Innovations told FoxNews.com. “Our socket is a series of componentry where we basically isolated the different functional purposes in the areas of the socket and built it up in a component fashion, and added adjustability and diversity dynamics over time.”

Traditional prosthetic socket technology is a fixed, rigid shape that does not adapt to the user's residual limb. The Infinite Socket is more like a cross-trainer, with a set of modular and adjustable parts, customized to the user's needs.

The Infinite Socket is available to any above-the-knee and through-the-knee amputee, and any patient seeking to be fitted with the device must first attend an evaluation appointment with their personal clinician, who gathers measurement data similar to what is needed when casting a limb, as well as pictures of the patient, and sends it to LIM Innovations. The company then enters the data into a software algorithm that they created to produce a product tailored to the amputee’s needs.

The Infinite Socket uses 3-D printed scans of the patient’s limb and measurements, as well as thermoplastic carbon fiber custom struts and high-grade aluminum plates to provide the adjustable frame. The carbon fiber can be molded to the structure of the patient’s leg, and a soft interface cushions the patient’s natural limb where it meets the socket. The device is also outfitted with a two-part tensioning system that allows for adjustment for volume management, as needed by activity, and small adjustments that can be made on the move.

“The key difference for me has been the ability to wear this all day long, without any real sensitivity whatsoever on the end of my leg. It’s allowed me to participate in sports that I love for longer periods of time,” Robert Spotswood, 32, said of the Infinite Socket. “Previously I was playing one set of tennis and I would be all the way into my socket to the point where I was having a lot of sensitivity on the end of my bone,” the San Francisco resident said. “I’m far more comfortable and I have that ability to tighten the system throughout the activity, which has prolonged my ability to play or do whatever I was doing.”

The creators also ensured that their product is interchangeable with distal prosthetic components currently out on the market, which means that their patients come from very medically diverse backgrounds.

“The most prevalent population of amputees are vascular diabetics, so they tend to be a little bit older, and they’re not necessarily as mobile as some of the younger trauma folks or warriors,” Pedtke said. “They’re looking for something that’s really helpful and gets them along in everyday life, is liberating, they just want to get up and move around.”

While vascular diabetics are strong candidates for the Infinite Socket, Pedtke noted they aren’t the only patients who benefit.

Trauma patients, who are generally more active, may enjoy the flexibility of the Infinite Socket. Apart from accommodating volume change, the Infinite Socket is adaptive to different activities. While it is not designed for running, it allows users to participate in more activities throughout the day. LIM Innovations also has a number of products in the pipeline, including a performance version for people seeking a move active lifestyle.

Pedtke said their list of patients includes patients as young as 14 and as old as 92, but each amputee is considered on a case-by-case basis.

For 14-year-old Andrew Seelhoff, who lives in Oceanside, California, the device has offered him a new way of life after a rare vascular disease rendered him unable to walk for seven years, and ultimately led to a right leg amputation.While Seelhoff was fitted with a regular socket and prosthetic, it irritated his leg and caused him so much pain that he couldn’t wear it and relied on a wheelchair. Now with the Infinite Socket, his mother Mary told Pedtke that it’s given him his life back.

“The important part is that we’re not just 3-D printing sockets here, we’re not just another tech company,” Pedtke said. “The foundation of what we’re doing is built upon a gravestone of clinical understanding of the technology gap that exists in the physical medicine space,” Pedtke said. He added that one of the biggest issues he has seen as an orthopedist is that as new products are invented, only minimal changes are made at a very high cost to the patient.

For LIM Innovations, the reward that comes with fitting a patient with an Infinite Socket is two-fold. While the socket offers patients who have either abandoned their prosthesis due to discomfort, or have not found one that fits their needs, the chance to be mobile again, Pedtke believes it’s also beneficial to the health care system as a whole in keeping costs down.

“In the U.S., I think a very big concern for the amputee population is that these items are viewed as luxury items and they’re not, it’s a medical necessity like a sleep apnea machine,” he said. According to Pedtke, the insurance industry mostly views prosthetics as a necessity, which greatly helps his patients’ costs.

“It’s a liberating function to have a leg that can follow your desire to various activities,” Spotswood said.