Ankle injuries such as sprains and stress fractures are common, particularly with athletes. Around 25,000 people per day — both athletes and non-athletes, adults and children — in the US alone experience sprained ankles. With proper preventive care, however, most injuries of the ankle can be avoided. Once injured, added protection can prevent subsequent injuries.
One company located in Delft, Netherlands, EXO-L, is now using 3D scanning, modeling, and printing to produce what they call an “external ankle ligament,” a kind of custom-made brace that imitates the way the ankle operates. The company, which took its name from the product, was founded by Marcel Fleuren. The idea for EXO-L arose three years ago when Fleuren was attending Delft Technical University. Since its invention, Fleuren has sold 400 EXO-L support and his company has been recognized as a viable medical device by the health establishment in the Netherlands. This means that therapists and doctors can prescribe the EXO-L for their patients, a tremendous boon for the fledgling company.
When the EXO-L support is in place, it lends the ankle support as it moves and even when it weakens or gives out. Even as it supports, it still allows for optimum movement. The EXO-L, which was designed by a staff of medical experts, including doctors and physical therapists, was tested by nearly 50 athletes who reported that the device provided them with stability as well as permitting free and full range of motion. The EXO-L is easily inserted, worn on the outside of the shoe so it doesn’t irritate the skin, including causing blisters or abrasions.
Currently, the EXO-L is only available in the Netherlands. Potential clients can go to the company’s website and find a location where they can go and have their ankles scanned to begin the custom fabrication process. Customers also have the option of scheduling an appointment with the EXO-L staff, who will actually come to them to perform the scan. A custom-designed, 3D printed EXO-L ankle device costs €199 (about $235 USD), which seems incredibly reasonable.
Because the EXO-L device needs to be attached by a special strap to the wearer’s shoes, the company also offers its customers the option of purchasing new shoes (athletic-style shoes seem to be the sole option at this point) directly from them. The shoes provided by the company are already designed to accommodate the EXO-L ankle support. If customers provide their own shoes, there is an additional charge is €23.95 and €9.95 for any additional shoes. The process for modifying customer’s shoes takes about 15 minutes.
The EXO-L website provides a thorough FAQ section as well as testimonials and brief descriptions of its products, including the ankle support and shoes. We imagine the much-lauded EXO-L device will be more broadly available soon, potentially in the US.
What do you think about the EXO-L device? Would it be helpful to you or someone you know? Let us know your thoughts in the EXO-L 3D Printed Ankle Support forum thread over at 3DPB.com. Check out more photos of the device in action below.