Thermal modulation of skin friction at the finger pad

Alessandro Valenza, Konrad Rykaczewski, Daniel M. Martinez, Antonino Bianco, Silvia Caggiari, Peter Worsley, Davide Filingeri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preliminary human studies show that reduced skin temperature minimises the risk of mechanically induced skin damage. However, the mechanisms by which cooling enhances skin tolerance to pressure and shear remain poorly understood. We hypothesized that skin cooling below thermo-neutral conditions will decrease kinetic friction at the skin-material interface. To test our hypothesis, we measured the friction coefficient of a thermally pre-conditioned index finger pad sliding at a normal load (5N) across a plate maintained at three different temperatures (38, 24, and 16 °C) in 8 healthy young adults (29±5y). To quantify the temperature distribution of the skin tissue, we used 3D surface scanning and Optical Coherence Tomography to develop an anatomically representative thermal model of the finger. Our group-level data indicated that the sliding finger with thermally affected tissues (up to 8 mm depth) experienced significantly lower frictional forces (p<0.01) at plate temperatures of 16 °C (i.e. 32% decrease) and 24 °C (i.e. 13% decrease) than at 38 °C, respectively. This phenomenon occurred consistently across participants (i.e. N = 6/8, 75%) and without large changes in skin hydration during sliding. Our complementary experimental and theoretical results provide new insights into thermal modulation of skin friction that can be employed for developing thermal technologies to maintain skin integrity under mechanical loading and shearing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106072
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Biophysics
  • Computational modelling
  • Friction
  • Optical coherence tomography
  • Pressure ulcer
  • Skin temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mechanics of Materials


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