Medical Textile | Use of Technical Textiles in Health and Hygiene Products

Posted by Firoz Kabir on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 0

Medical Textile a general term which describes a textile structure which has been designed and produced for use in any of a variety of medical applications, including implantable applications.

An important and growing part of the textile industry is medical, hygiene and health sector. The extent of growth is due to the development and improvement of knowledge in both textile as well as medical sector.

The engineering approach to develop textile products that will be suitable for medical and surgical application should possess a combination of the following properties

e.g. strength, flexibility, and sometimes moisture and air permeability.

Materials include natural fibre, mono-filament as well as multifilament yarns. 

The number of application is huge and diverse, ranging from a single thread suture to the complex composite structures for bone replacement, and from the simple cleaning wipe to advanced barrier fabrics used in operation rooms. Thus the textiles used in medical and surgical purposes can be classified as follows;

1.    Nonplantable materials-Wound dressing, bandages, plasters etc.
2.    Extracorporeal devices- artificial kidney, liver, and lung
3.    Implantable materials-suture, vascular grafts, artificial ligaments, artificial joints, etc.
4.    Healthcare/hygine products-bedding, clothing, surgical gowns, cloths, wipes etc.

The majority of the healthcare products are disposable while some are reused. The medical product based on textiles is around $ 76 billion in the year 2000.

Fibres used:

Fibres used in medical application may be classified as follows;

1. According to source of origin:

i.    Natural- Cotton and silk most widely used
ii.    Synthetic- Viscose, polyester, polyamide, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polypropylene, carbon, glass, and so on.

2. According to biological resistance:
Biodegradable- Fibres which are absorbed by the body within 2-3 months time after implantation and include Cotton, Viscose rayon, polyamide, polyurathene, collagen, and alginate, polycaprolactone, polypropiolactone.
 Non biodegradable-Fibres that are absorbed by the body slowly and take more than six months time to degrade are considered as non biodegradable. Non-biodegradable fibres and include polyester (e.g. Dacron), polypropylene, PTFE and carbon.

Fibre used in medical textiles must full fill the following criterion
  •  the fibres must be nontoxic
  • must be non-allergenic
  • must be non-carcinogenic
  • must be able to be sterilised without impairing any change in their physical or chemical characteristics.
  • where necessary biodegradable
  • where necessary non biodegradable

Traditionally cotton, silk and viscose have long been used for medical and surgical purposes. One such area of application is wound care, where moisture and liquid exude from the wound is absorbed by the fibrous structure to promote healing in relatively dry conditions.

However upon healing small fibrous elements protruding from the wound dressing are usually trapped in the pores of the newly formed tissues which make their removal distressing to the patients.

Research show that wound under moist condition would in fact heal better and faster, which would also remove the problem of fibres being trapped in the healing wound.

The concept of moist healing has since been responsible for the development of many fibres which have vastly improved wound management techniques and patient care.
A variety of polymers such as collagen, alginate, chitin, chitosan have been used to be essential materials for modern wound dressings.

Collagen which has been obtained from bovine skin is used to produce biodegradable fibres used as suture which is as strong as silk.

The fibre can also be converted to transparent gel like film structure used as contact lens which has very good oxygen permeability.

Alginate (obtained from sea weeds) and chitin (obtained from shrimp shells) are widely used for treatment of wound healing.  Chitin nonwoven fabric is used as artificial skin.

A. Nonplantable materials:
These materials are used for external application on the body and may or may not make contact with skin.

The following table illustrates a range of materials used as non-implantable madical textiles.

(i) Wound care products– The purpose of these products are to provide protection against infection, absorb blood and exudates, promote healing and in some instances apply medication into the wound.

Common wound dressings are composite materials consisting of an absorbent layer held between a wound contact layer and a flexible base material.

The absorbent pad absorbs blood or liquids and provides cushioning effect to protect the wound.

The wound contact layer should prevent adherence of the dressing to the wound and be easily removed without disturbing new tissue growth. The base materials are normally coated with acrylic adhesive to provide the means by which the dressing is applied to the wound.

The use of collagen, alginate, and chitin fibres contribute significantly to the healing process.

When alginate fiber is used as wound contact layer the interaction between the alginate and the exuding wound creates a sodium alginate gel which is hydrophilic and permeable to oxygen and impermeable to the bacteria and contribute to the formation pf new tissue.

(ii) Gauze: It is an open weave absorbent fabric, when coated with paraffin wax is used for the treatment of burns and scalds. In surgical application gauze serves as an absorbent material.

(iii) Lint:  It is a plain weave cotton fabric that is used as protective dressing for first aid and mild burn application.
(iv) Wadding:  It is a highly absorbent material that is covered with a nonwoven fabric to prevent wound adhesion or fibre loss.

(v) Bandages: Bandages are designed to perform a whole variety of specific functions depending upon the final medical requirements.

They can be 
         -or nonwoven and are
         -either elastic or nonelastic.

the most common application of bandages is to hold the dressing in place over wound.

These are light weight knitted or woven fabrics made of cotton or viscose –scoured, bleached and sterilized.

Elasticized yarns are incorporated to the structure to impart support and conforming characteristics. 

Knitted bandages are produced either in weft knitting machine to produce tubular fabric of varying diameter or in warp knitting machine.

Woven light support fabrics are used in the management of sprains or strains and the elasticated properties are obtained by weaving crepe yarns having a very high twist.

Similar properties can also be obtained by weaving fabric from two warp beam one in low tension and the other in high tension.

Compression bandages are used for the treatment and prevention of deep vein thrombosis, leg ulceration, and varicose veins and are designed to exert a required amount of compression on leg when applied at a constant tension.

Compression bandages are classified by the amount of compression they can exert at the ankle and include extra –high, high, moderate and light compression can be either woven and contain cotton and elastomeric yarns or warp and weft knitted in both tubular or fully fashioned forms.

Orthopedic cushion bandages are used under plaster casts and compression bandages to provide padding and prevent discomfort.

Non-woven orthopedic cushion bandages are produced from polyurethane foam, polyester, or polypropylene fibres and contain blends of natural or synthetic fibres.

Non woven bandages are lightly needle punched to maintain bulk and loft. 

B. Extra-corporeal devices:

These are mechanical organs that are used for blood purification and include the artificial kidney (dialyser), the artificial liver, mechanical lung. The function and performances of these devices benefit from fibre and textile.

The function of artificial kidney is achieved by circulating the blood through a membrane, which may be either a flat sheet or a bundle of hollow regenerated cellulose fibres in the form of cellophane that retain the unwanted waste materials.

Multilayred filters composed of numerous layers of needle punched fabrics with varying densities may also be used and are designed to remove the waste materials rapidly and efficiently.

The artificial liver utilizes hollow fibres or membranes similar to those used in artificial kidney to perform high permeability to gases but low permeability to liquids and function in the same manner as in the natural lung allowing oxygen to come into contact with the patient’s blood.

C. Implantable materials:
These materials are used in effecting repair to the body whether it be wound closure (Sutures) or replacement surgery (Vascular grafts, artificial ligaments etc.). Table 15.3 show the list of implantable materials.

Bio-compatibility is of prime importance if the textile materials are to be accepted by the body and four key factors will determine how the body reacts to the implant, these are as follows

1.    The most important factor is porosity which determines the rate at which human tissue will grow and encapsulate the implant.
2.    Small circular fibres are better encapsulated with human tissue than larger fibres with irregular cross section.
3.    Toxic substances must not be released by the fibre polymer, and the fibres should be free from surface contaminations such as lubricants and sizing agents.
4.    The properties of the polymer will influence the success of the implantation in terms of its biodegradability.

Polyamide is the most reactive material losing its overall strength after only two years as a result of biodegradation. PTFE is the least reactive with polypropylene and polyester is in between


Sutures are used for closure of wounds. They are either monofilament or multifilament. Nonbiodegradable sutures are used for closure of external wounds and after healing of the wounds, they are removed. Biodegradable sutures are used for closure of internal wounds; these sutures are gradually absorbed by the body.


Textile materials are used for constructive and corrective surgery of tendons ligaments and cartilage.

Artificial tendons are woven or braided porous meshes or tapes surrounded by a silicone sheath. During implantation the natural tendon can be looped through artificial tendon and then sutured to itself in order to connect the muscle to the bone.

Textile materials used for artificial knee ligaments should not only possess biocompatibility properties but must also have the physical characteristics needed for such a demanding application.

Artificial ligaments are braided composite materials containing carbon and polyester filaments.

There are two types of cartilages found in the human body e.g-(i) Hayline cartilages- these are dense and hard and used where rigidity is needed. (ii) Elastic cartilage- are soft

Low density polyethylene is used to replace facial, nose, ear and throat cartilage.

Carbon fibre reinforced composites structures are used for hay-line cartilage. 

Orthopedics implants:
Orthopedic implants are those materials that are used for hard tissue applications to replace bones and joints. Fiber-reinforced composite materials may be designed with the required high structural strength and bio-compatibility properties needed for these applications and are now replacing metal implants for artificial joints and bones.

To promote tissue in-growths around the implant a non-woven
mat made from graphite and PTFE (e.g. Teflon) is used, which acts as an interface between the implant and the adjacent hard and soft tissue. Composite structures composed of poly (d, l-lactide urethane) and reinforced with polyglycolic acid have excellent physical properties.

The composite can be formed into shape during surgery at a temperature of 60 °C and is used for both hard and soft tissue applications. Braided surgical cables composed of steel filaments ranging from 13–130mm are used to stabilize fractured bones or to secure orthopedic implants to the skeleton.

Cardiovascular implants:
Vascular grafts are used in surgery to replace damaged thick arteries or veins 6mm, 8mm, or 1 cm in diameter. Commercially available vascular grafts are produced from polyester (e.g. Dacron) or PTFE (e.g. Teflon) with either woven or knitted structures.

Straight or branched grafts are possible by using either weft or warp knitting technology. Polyester vascular grafts can be heat set into a crimped configuration that improves the handling characteristics.

During implantation the surgeon can bend and adjust the length of the graft, which, owing to the crimp, allows the graft to retain its circular cross-section.

Knitted vascular grafts have a porous structure which allows the graft to become encapsulated with new tissue but the porosity can be disadvantageous since blood leakage (hemorrhage) can occur through the interstices directly after implantation.

This effect can be reduced by using woven grafts but the lower porosity of these grafts hinders tissue ingrowths; in addition, woven grafts are also generally stiffer than the knitted equivalents.

In an attempt to reduce the risk of hemorrhage, knitted grafts have been developed with internal and external velour surfaces in order to fill the interstices of the graft. Another method is to seal or preclot the graft with the patient’s blood during implantation.

This is a time-consuming process and its effectiveness is dependent upon the patient’s blood chemistry and the skill of the surgeon.

Presealed grafts have zero porosity when implanted but become porous allowing tissue ingrowths to occur. The graft is impregnated with either collagen or gelatin that, after a period of 14 days, degrades to allow tissue encapsulation. Artificial blood vessels with an inner diameter of 1.5 mm have been developed using porous PTFE tubes. The tube consists of an inner layer of collagen and heparin to prevent blood clot formation and an outer biocompatible layer of collagen with the tube itself providing strength.

Artificial heart valves, which are caged ball valves with metal struts, are
covered with polyester (e.g. Dacron) fabrics in order to provide a means of suturing the valve to the surrounding tissue.

D. Healthcare/hygiene products:
Healthcare and hygiene products are an important sector in the field of medicine
and surgery. The range of products available is vast but typically they are used either in the operating theatre or on the hospital ward for the hygiene, care, and safety of staff and patients. Table 15.4 illustrates the range of products used in this category and includes the fibre materials used and the method of manufacture.

Alginate Wound Dressings
Alginates  are naturally occurring substances formed only in brown sea weed. Among the many species of brown sea weed the most widely used are the species of

1. Laminaria (British isles,France,N.America & Japan).
2. Macocystics (USA)&
3. Asco phylum (British isles)

Alginate is a copolymer of a two epimer units.

(a)    α –L guluronic acid (G)
  • Mainly instems.
  • Binding Calcium ions more firmly.
  • Fibre swelling only slightly.
  • Forming a stronger gel

(b)  β-D Mannuronic acid (M)
  • Mainly in leaves.
  • Binding Calcium ions Less firmly.
  • Fibre swelling enormously.
  • Forming a softer gel.

Likely combinations are – GG,MM,MG at various lengths and proportions.

Making of alginate fibres:

Sodium alginate solutions.(water soluble)
Extruding solution into a calcium chloride bath (ion exchange)
Calcium alginate filament (water ionsoluble)

Alginate properties: The wide spread use of alginate fibres in the production of

High tech wound dressing:
  • Sodium ion in wound exudates.
  • Calcium ion in calcium alginate fibre.
  • Fibre becoming partial sodium partial calcium.
  • Water soluble sodium alginate fibers show small effect on ion exdchange.
  • High M alginate fibres swells enormously at the result of the exchange.

Alginate Dressings:
  • To prevent strike.
  • To keep wound in a dry and clean condition.
  • Gauze used as the main wound dressing material.

General Requirements for the High tech wound dressings:
  • To remove excess exudates and toxic component.
  • To maintain a high humidity at wound dressing interface.
  • To allow gaseous exchange.
  • To provide thermal insulation.
  • To offer protection against secondary infection.
  • To be free from particulate or toxic contaminants.
  • To allow removal without trauma at dressing change.

Structure of alginate dressing:
  • Primarily non woven pads of different sizes.
  • Also considered for particular properties.
  • Woven.
  • Knitted
  • Braided structures.

Problem of the non woven alginate dressing:
  • High M alginate dressing lacking integrity when wetted.
  • Difficult to remove as one piece.
  • Warm saline solution used to wash away dressing.(This action may cause pain when damage new tissue or contaminant the wound)
  • High G alginate better but less absorbent.

Reinforced dressings: Woven structures:

When dressing is wetted the filaments forms a woven web within the gel therefore making dressing easy to remove.
For absorbency thicker yarns used suitably high densities is used to maximize absorbency.
Zs contact layer thinner yarns is used to remove layer of alginate gel.

Braided structures:
  • Useful for cavity wound.
  • Braidede tubes.
  • Braided tubes with alginate sliver as core

Knitted Structures:  Circular dressings.

About the Author

Md. Firoz Kabir(M.Sc in Textile Engineering)

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