3D Printed Splints & Braces: Just As Effective & Comfortable, Cheaper & Faster to Make

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University of Nebraska researcher James Pierce has delved further into the potential for 3D printed assistive devices in ‘Efficacy of Assistive Devices Produced with Additive Manufacturing.’ He begins by stating that it is surprising there have not been more previous ventures into the use of devices like 3D printed splints and casts, despite the obvious need—and an enormous amount of injuries each year resulting in sprains and breaks.

Traditional wrist splint used for
functional comparison.

The goal is to eliminate older, conventional methods that may promote healing but take more time in production, are expensive, and often result in uncomfortable, poorly-fitted devices. If you have endured wearing a splint or a cast or watched someone else try to deal with wearing one, then chances are you are nodding your head right now and getting pretty interested in hearing what 3D printing can do differently for orthopedic patients.

Pierce explores how all the most intrinsic benefits of 3D printing could be used in creating customized medical devices, beginning with affordability—after all, healthcare is expensive, and cost drives many of our choices, not to mention controlling insurance coverage too. In terms of design, the researcher was hoping to find a way to fabricate parametric assistive devices that could be made quickly. This is important in nearly any consumer scenario, but especially when something is being created to fit a patient who may be in pain, whether acute or chronic.

Even more interesting about this research is the potential Pierce sees for applications in space:

“Knowledge gained from this study will validate novel assistive devices which could be used in the treatment of musculoskeletal injury for astronauts’ both during spaceflight and after return to Earth,” said Pierce. “These novel solutions will require less expert intervention and less on-site modifications for fitting.”

Pierce states that it has already been noted in previous studies that 3D printing for these types of devices is significantly faster, but still there have been no parametric devices of this specific kind actually produced using AM methods, which should create a way for patients to recover more quickly, avoid further injury, and allow for better use of effort and materials. Initial data regarding a 26-year-old male wearing a wrist orthosis showed results ‘not significantly different’ from a conventionally made device.

A) 3D model of a parametrically-defined hand exoskeleton design, scaled to fit a participant in CAD before part production. B) 3D model of a wrist orthosis, which is printed flat and thermoformed to the
contours of the users’ upperlimb.

The patient did say that the 3D printed model was more comfortable, and Pierce attributes this to the breathability of the design. The 3D printed version was also preferred due to aesthetics, featuring a more streamlined style, bright colors, and better design overall.

An Ultimaker 3D printer was used in production of the orthoses.

One of the most exciting aspects of 3D printing is that it allows users to challenge conventional methods and promotes positive change for consumers as well as a wide range of medical patients today who are benefiting from the use of 3D printed medical models, a variety of different devices, and a vast number of forays into bioprinting too.

For patients healing from sprains and fractures, the usual visit to the doctor for X-rays and a cast made of plaster may soon be a completely different experience. Find out more about additive manufacturing for parametric devices here, and check back for a full analysis of the study in April 2019.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: Efficacy of Assistive Devices Produced with Additive Manufacturing]

A) Unformed wrist splint; B) A 3D printed wrist splint, thermoformed to fit the user.

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