Tribology and medical textiles: A brief outlook

In pharmacology, a drug is defined as a natural or synthetic substance other than food, used in treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation or diagnosis of a disease [1]. A drug can be taken by the patient in many forms such as by inhalation, injection, dissolving the drug under the tongue or via patch on the skin [2]. Our main area of focus would be on delivering the drug via patch on skin. This patch in medical terms is generally comes under the category of medical textile. Drug loading and drug release are two important aspects of medical textiles. Drugs can be loaded to textile fibers and fabrics via a number of methods, such as by using ion exchange, hollow fibers, and surface coating. Drugs should be released in a controlled and prolonged fashion keeping in mind drug concentration and matrix architecture [3]. Medical textiles are not just limited to drug delivery bandages but also include hospital bedsheets, surgeon’s wear, wound dressings, nappies and sanitary towels [4]. Since used in medical field, the quality of these medical textiles has to be of vary high standards. Some of the qualities include [5]:

  • Biocompatible
  • Good resistance to bacteria
  • Free from impurities
  • Dust repelling ability or low dust absorption rate
  • Good permeability for air
Fig. 1. Image of a hospital room
Fig. 1. Image of a hospital room

Decubitus ulcers are found primarily in patients left in bed or in a wheelchair for long periods of time. Coma state, heart surgeries and pregnancy normally require complete bed rests. Prolonged pressure, friction and shear forces, as well as moisture at the skin-textile interface are some of causes of Decubitus ulcers [6][7]. Combination of friction, pressure and moisture can strongly decrease blood perfusion and can cause harm to skin texture. Several tribologists are trying to develop new fabrics or optimize current fabrics used in hospital bedsheets, by conducting tribological tests over various fabrics in dry and wet conditions. Their main emphasis is on reducing friction and shear forces acting on the skin of immobile patients. Efforts are also being made to make the skin textile interface drier since it has been observed that the friction between skin and textiles increases with interfacial moisture [8].

Researchers are also working on making more skin friendly materials. In one of the studies, tribologists conducted 3D topography of a normal hospital bed sheet and a new bed sheet with a regular surface structure. It was found that the later offered a smaller microscopic contact area (up to a factor of two) and by a larger free interfacial volume (more than a factor of two) in addition to a 1.5 times lower shear strength when in contact with counter-surfaces. Through the same study, penetration of the textile surface asperities into skin and the ratio of real and apparent area of contact between textiles and skin was also found [9].

In this way tribology can be applied in medical textile industry in order to provide high levels of comfort to the patients and disease prevention.


  1. “Drug.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
  2. “Read the Full Definition.” Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
  3. Qin, Yimin. “Chapter 13: Medical Textile Materials with Drug-releasing Properties.” Medical Textile Materials. Oxford: Woodhead, 2015
  4. Kumar, R. Senthil. “Chapter 3: Medical Textiles.” Textiles for Industrial Applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis Group, 2014
  5. Kiron, Mazharul Islam. “Introduction of Medical Textiles | Application of Medical Textiles | Requirements of Textile Material for Medical Applications.”textilelearner”.
  6. “Stages of Pressure Sores.” WebMD. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
  7. Macon, Brindles Lee, and Matthew Solan. “What You Should Know About Decubitus Ulcers.” Healthline. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
  8. Rotaru, G.-M., D. Pille, F.k. Lehmeier, R. Stämpfli, A. Scheel-Sailer, R.M. Rossi, and S. Derler. “Friction between Human Skin and Medical Textiles for Decubitus Prevention.” Tribology International 65 (2013): 91-96
  9. Derler, S., G.-M. Rotaru, W. Ke, L. El Issawi-Frischknecht, P. Kellenberger, A. Scheel-Sailer, and R.M. Rossi. “Microscopic Contact Area and Friction between Medical Textiles and Skin.” Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials 38 (2014): 114-25
  10. Books: Google books preview only; Technical papers used – open access and abstract only; Image used is “Labelled for reuse with modification/ for free and use them commercially”.

Harshvardhan Singh is an Automotive Engineer and has good experience in lubrication science and experimental tribology. He loves to write about tribology and related fields such as coating technology, surface engineering and others.

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