As 3D printing technology becomes more affordable, its use in developing 3D printed orthopedic casts becomes a more advantageous approach to treating bone fractures.
A 3D printed cast, or an orthopedic cast, is a shell, often made from plaster, that encases a limb or portion of the body to help keep it structurally stable to allow it to heal, often in instances of bone fractures or breaks. Although these plaster-based casts are effective in healing broken bones, they possess several limitations. Aside from the fact that these casts are unpleasant to look at and are extremely uncomfortable to wear, other limitations exist:
3D printed casts are able to address the above-mentioned limitations while providing additional benefits based on the designs.
Below we will cover some of the most promising 3D printed cast projects in the recent few years.
The Cortex Cast was one of the earliest developments in 3D printed casts. In 2013, Jake and Ollie Evill designed the Cortex Cast to move past the traditional plaster cast system. The Cortex cast features a localized support system that is light, ventilated and shower friendly.
The cast is designed using X-rays and 3D scans of a patient’s fracture. The resulting 3D printable cast has optimal support for the most vulnerable areas while providing a perfect fit for structural support. The cast can easily be worn by snap fitting two halves together, which prevents disassembly.
The cast is currently not commercially available, as the designers seek partners for further development of the project.
The Osteoid medical cast was designed by Deniz Karasahin in 2014 as part of the A’Design Award & Competition. Deniz won the gold award-winning design for his cast.
In addition to providing stable support, being comfortable, water-friendly, light-weight and ventilated, the cast can also be combined with a complementary low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) bone stimulator system.
Supposedly, with daily 20-minute sessions with the stimulator system, a patient can actually speed up the healing process. This type of additional LIPUS system can only work in conjunction with a 3D printed design, as the ultrasound probes need to be in contact with the skin at the site of injury, which would not be possible with a traditional cast.
However, evidence for LIPUS as a proposed therapy for healing bones is questionable and inconclusive. Recently, a study in 2018 reported whole brain LIPUS therapy improved cognitive function in mice so the beneficial use of this technology has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the 3D printed cast allows for the integration of technologies like LIPUS while traditional casts do not.
This cast is also not commercially available.
NovaCast is yet another breathable, lightweight, ventilated and water-friendly 3D printed cast. It’s developed by the Mexican startup MediPrint and was introduced around 2016.
What’s novel about this design is how the casts are generated. The team designed an algorithm that inputs data from the doctor in order to generate the cast without a 3D scan. Patients can receive their personalized NovaCast typically in three and a half hours.
The NovaCast is also commercially unavailable and is still under development.
ActivArmor is the only custom made 3D printed cast available in the United States and is covered by most insurance providers.
Just like the aforementioned casts, ActivArmor is also water safe, custom designed and FDA approved. The cast is made out a high-temperature thermoplastic and custom designed for the patient by 3D mapping. Its design features adjustability to accommodate for the swelling that often occurs after injury.
In order to get your hands (or broken bones) on an ActivArmor cast, medical providers can send patients to one of the company’s partnering clinics with a prescription for an ActivArmor splint, including a diagnosis code and special design or fit instructions. You can check out their website to find a referring physician or partnering clinic. You’ll have to wait at least 2 business days to receive your custom cast after your visit, but ActivArmor will provide a free temporary splint at the clinic for use during this turnaround time.
License: The text of "3D Printed Cast – The Most Promising Projects in 2019" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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