During one of the matches for the first Women’s Euro Hockey League (EHL), Dutch hockey star Eva de Goede fractured her left wrist after a collision with the German team’s goalkeeper Amy Gibson. The future felt bleak for this three-time Olympic medalist as she underwent surgery and saw her preparations for the upcoming Olympics severely hampered. However, a special, custom-made postoperative 3D printed brace to support her wrist made it possible for her to rejoin the squad in time for the EuroHockey Championship held in June 2021. With her special brace, the team captain went on to win a historic 11th and third consecutive EuroHockey Championship title for the Dutch women’s team, beating Germany 2-0 in the final.
When de Goede stepped out onto the field for the tournament, just weeks after the injury and wearing a sleek, black, 3D printed brace, she was at the top of her game. At the time, the athlete said on social media, “not even in my wildest dreams would I have pictured myself here already.” The 3D printed dynamic brace that helped her win the European championship was developed through a collaborative effort between Dutch 3D printing company Beamler, 3D printing software provider Artus3D, healthcare business Centrum Orthopedic, and physio-hand therapist Saskia Sizoo.
First, a 3D scan was made of de Goede’s hand by Centrum Orthopedie, which Artus3D then processed to generate a 3D model of the brace. Next, in cooperation with Saskia Sizoo, they printed a special design called the Sizoo dynamic wrist brace 2.0, originally developed in 2020 to help people with wrist problems speed up rehabilitation. The design was then printed within a day through Beamler’s on-demand 3D printing platform.
Just seven weeks after the operation, de Goede was competing at an international level with the help of the Sizoo dynamic wrist splint, which enormously accelerated the rehabilitation of the operated wrist fracture. The brace worked so well that the 32-year-old midfield star scored three times during the championship and was even awarded the “Player of the Tournament” title.
de Goede described the win as one of her “more precious victories,” probably because playing the game seemed like a very distant possibility at the time of her injury in early April 2021. “I owe this gold medal to the quick rehabilitation process with Saskia and the fast orthosis production. When I broke my wrist, I didn’t yet dare to dream of this, but I aimed for the 1% chance that it could happen. It’s been a life-changer for me, so I can recommend the Sizoo dynamic brace to anybody dealing with the same type of injury.”
Braces have rigorous specifications, including excellent mechanical properties to prevent the articulation from shifting, and should also be flexible at room temperature for more comfort. This customized brace was printed with multi-jet fusion technology and employed the thermoplastic elastomer thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). According to Beamler, the process guaranteed a short delivery time, low porosity, and excellent surface finish. In addition, additive manufacturing (AM) is perfectly suited for making this type of supportive braces, reducing manufacturing time and price compared to other more traditional technologies.
With such a high risk of sports-related injuries among professional athletes, orthosis braces show great potential. Statistics reveal that millions of athletes will sustain an injury at some point in their careers; many even reportedly play injured, which can be even more dangerous. Although sprains and strains are among some of the most common injuries, fractures, like de Goede, happen in just about every sport, often resulting from ill-timed tackles and collisions. Long ago, 3D printing began moving into the athletics realm, enabling sports goods manufacturers to develop unique items for athletes that fit their measurements perfectly and utilize the best materials modern technologies have to offer.
Lately, companies have been developing bespoke 3D printed athletic shoes, such as Adidas and Nike. The two mega sports brands announced running shoes with 3D printed soles that allow better comfort and reduced weight, thanks to collaborations with some big players in 3D printing. But even more important is the trend of 3D printing applications for sports injury prevention. Mainly seen through the manufacture of custom-made helmets for American football, biking, or hockey. For example, the 3D printed helmets used in the National Football League (NFL) are among the most performant in the world because of their unique design that fits the athlete’s head perfectly, with a lattice structure that offers superior protection compared to the traditional foam used in helmets.
Now that de Goede got back to the game, she is looking forward to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. With 235 international matches, the captain of Orange and most experienced player in the Netherlands hopes to take home the gold medal for the third time this summer. The Netherlands is one of the twelve teams that have qualified for Tokyo, and as this will be de Goede’s final Games, she wants to help her younger teammates feel the experience of winning gold.
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