Babies and toddlers usually exhibit a rather bow-legged look until several years of age, and then as they develop, it dissipates and altogether disappears. In some cases, however, the condition persists and can be a great source of embarrassment, sometimes leading to teasing in the childhood years, and can even lead to depression. Bowed legs are caused by rickets, developmental issues, improperly healed fractures, and other factors, which can be environmental — like exposure to toxins.
There are different procedures and surgeries available but often involve commitment to long, arduous hospital stays and/or metal frames, plates, or implants. Dr Liu King-lok, of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, is leading a study, which so far is having quite successful results through the use of 3D printing. Dr. Liu carried out the study while working as a clinical assistant professor at the university, but has since moved into private practice.
Through the use of the new technology, which has led to myriad and substantial breakthroughs in the medical field to date, doctors are able to create 3D printed copies of the bones in the patient’s legs. With a 3D printed version of the deformity at hand, the doctor is able to assess the patient’s condition in a detailed, specific manner before taking the next step.
Traditionally that next step would be the fitting and wearing of a metal body frame which is sometimes worn for up to a year. Wearing one of the frames can mean a great deal of hospital time while the frame is being refitted, and puncture areas where the frame is actually pinned to the bone via the skin are disinfected to avoid any chance of infection.
With the 3D printing process, doctors are available to perform a surgery on the patient after designing instruments specifically made to fit — and fix — the deformed bones by inserting plates and screws internally for correction of the condition.
“This has profound implications for the technology to be applied in other bone surgery,” said Dr. Liu.
So far, four patients have been treated with the alternative procedure aided by 3D printing which includes the initial procedure and then another one later for the removal of pins. With what sound like enormously successful results compared to previous methods and timeframes, patients were out of the hospital after a quick stay, and walking shortly thereafter.
“My knees and my heels hurt whenever I walked, which affected many aspects of my life,” said one of the patients, named Ann.
She had been told of the traditional procedures and was fearful. On hearing of the new study, the 24-year-old postgraduate student was encouraged. She ventured ahead, with great results, as she was, with some help, able to walk within days.
“The doctor said I needed surgery. But the traditional correction treatment is so terrifying. I didn’t want to wear the external frame for a whole year, with all those needles visibly piercing my legs,” said Ann.
3D printing does seem to be gaining attention from medical professionals who really want to make a change in the lives of people who have been suffering with a condition for many years, such as issues with amputations and limb deformities. With 3D printing, patients are gaining benefits they never thought possible. As one headline after another is written about the wonders of the technology, it would seem the applications and innovations are infinite.
Do you know anyone who could benefit from this procedure which uses 3D printing as a tool for performing a simpler and more efficient surgery to eliminate or significantly reduce bowed legs? Tell us about it in the 3D Printing Helps Reverse Bowed Legs forum over at 3DPB.com.