No one wants to deal willingly with the difficulties that come with a broken bone but sometimes accidents do happen. When this occurs, ensuring the affected limb is placed in a comfortable position makes it heal faster. This is why orthopedics has consistently used plaster of Paris and other thermoplastics to keep broken bones in place. Here comes the 3D printed Cast.
Although the use of conventional cast materials yields good results, they also come with challenges. These challenges include skin infections, no access to the skin while it itches, and other health-related problems. Removing a conventional cast can also cause pain to the user. To eliminate these difficulties, professional 3D printing facilities now 3D casts for orthopedic uses. The question that remains is how good are these casts?
According to research by orthopedic professionals from the Rothman Orthopedic Institute among others, 3D printed casts are more-effective than conventional options. Patients who were fitted with the 3D printed casts experienced more comfort and satisfaction compared to the use of conventional casts. The research focused on 3D printed casts made with fiber glass, Plaster of Paris, and thermoplastic.
Plaster Cast/Fiberglass Cast vs. 3D Printed Casts
As stated earlier, 3D printed cast provided the most relief for patients. The criteria used for this analysis or comparisons include the following:
- Weight – A lighter cast offers more relief than heavier options while casts made from fiberglass are lighter than those made from plaster, both are heavier than 3D printed thermoplastics casts. It is also worth mentioning that you can also choose to 3D print a cast using fiberglass.
- Water-resistant – Plaster casts are notorious for their affinity with water because they soak up water which makes it difficult for patients with casts to take baths. Fiberglass is resistant to water and this is also the same for 3D printed thermoplastic polymers casts.
- Support for Checkups– When routine checks need to be done such as X-raying the affected limb; fiberglass and 3D printed casts are more responsive and ensure the limb can be inspected with ease. Plaster on the other hand can be an obstacle and removing a cast before the bone has healed is generally not recommended.
- Cost – Although making use of a plaster casts is more affordable than fiberglass, 3D printing offers an even more affordable solution for developing casts. The materials used are quite cheap.
- Developing the cast – Using plaster is still the faster process as the plaster is molded directly on the limb. For fiberglass and 3D printing, the dimensions of the limb may need to be taken in order to 3D print or develop a cast that fits the affected limb.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of a 3D Printed Casts
The advantages of a 3D printed cast cut across cost, comfort, and ease of use. These advantages include:
- 3D printed casts make use of thermoplastics that are comfortable with skin contact. This leads to fewer skin infections when using a cast for long durations.
- The option of experimenting with more materials when creating a cast is also an added advantage. With the 3D printer, you can choose to use either a thermoplastic or fiberglass.
- 3D printed casts provide easy access to the protected limb. This makes it possible to take x-rays of the limb or clean it.
- 3D printed cast are waterproof which means no extra care needs to be taken when around water.
- Lastly, 3D printed casts are aesthetically pleasing to look at compared to other options. You can choose to use different designs that appeal to you.
As with most things, 3D printed casts come with some disadvantages to the user. These disadvantages include:
- Ease of access to the limb can be problematic if the cast is being used by a toddler. Kids can further injure themselves playing with it.
- 3D printing a cast takes more time than it takes to use the conventional plaster of Paris. This is due to the need to get dimensions right and the 3D printing process.
The Techniques for 3D Printing a Cast
Since the beginning of the article, we’ve continuously talked about the time it takes to 3D print a cast compared to using more conventional methods of setting a broken bone in place. So, here are the steps to developing a 3D printed cast.
- The 3D model – The dimensions must be correct to ensure the 3D printed cast does its job properly. To get these dimensions, a 3D scan or an x-ray scan of the limb must be done. The scan produces point clouds that are used to develop a raster image and finally the 3D model needed for the entire printing process. Once the 3D model has been sliced, the printing can commence.
- 3D Printing the cast – The next step is choosing the material required for 3D printing the cast. In many cases, thermoplastics are used which means a fused deposition modeling 3D printer will be likely used for 3D printing the cast.
- Post Processing – The 3D printed cast is held in place using clamps. Thus, the printed model must be prepped and cleaned to provide the aesthetics you want. The clamps can then be added when the cast is being put to use.
With these 3easy steps, the 3D printed cast is ready for use. This process is a bit longer than the conventional use of plasters but produces a more-efficient cast in the long run.
5 3D Printed Casts You Should Know
First and foremost, it is important to note that the recommendation to use a 3D printed cast is left to the orthopedic. It is definitely unhealthy to 3D print a cast and make use of it without the go-ahead from a doctor. That being said, the casts outlined here are innovative ideas that could inspire your orthopedic or professional 3D printers to create something great.
Cortex Exoskeleton Cast
As far back as 2013, the cortex exoskeleton cast was winning awards for the innovation it brought into the orthopedic space. The Cortex cast is aesthetically pleasing and quite comfortable to use. The development process of the cast includes x-raying the broken bone to design a cast that fits snugly over it. The cast is also equipped with a membrane placed at the breakage area to support it.
The features of the cast include:
- Comfortable design – The cast is designed to look like a spider web which means there are open spaces across the length of the limb. This allows air to reach the skin and eases the process of x-raying the bone for diagnostic purposes. The cast is a thing which means clothing can be one over it if needed.
- Supports Movement – Simple one-dimensional movements are encouraged for bone fractions that are not too extensive. With the cortex cast, moving the limb is possible. The cast is made from thermoplastic which means it is completely waterproof.
Osteoid Medical Cast
The recipient of the Gold A Design Award is a comfortable cast equipped with an attachable bone stimulator to aid the healing process. The Osteoid cast is currently being used by orthopedics due to the healing properties it provides. The use of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) simulator improves the healing process by 80%. This means patients with broken bones can regain full functions of the limb in record time. The cast consists of two pieces and requires exact dimensions that ensure the cast fits correctly over the limb. The perforated holes within the cast allow the limb to breathe and provide access to the skin for its users.
The features of the Osteoid Medical cast include:
- Comfortable Design – The Osteoid cast is professionally made to ensure the limb is protected and accessible to both doctors and the user. The cast is made to fit and the holes within it ensure any effects of its long-term use on the skin are minimal. The cast is also quite thin and supports the limited movement of the arm. The cast is also waterproof which is great for the user.
- Supports Movement – A broke limb is expected to stay stationary to heal correctly. The Osteoid cast provides that stability as well as support for limited movements which can also be important for the user.
- The Bone Simulator – The Osteoid cast takes its healing a step further by integrating the use of a LIPUS simulator to enhance the healing process. The medical professionals recommend using the simulator for 20 to 30 minutes daily. The use of the simulator is said to speed up the healing process by approximately 80%. The simulator comes with switches and exact directions on how to make use of the simulator.
The Nova Cast from Medi-Print is an excellent exoskeleton that supports broken bones with a thermoplastic cast consisting of two pieces. The Nova Cast is made to fit which means the patient’s limb will be scanned. The scanned limb provides the dimensions needed to 3D print the cast. Once both pieces have been printed, the next step is clamping it and securing the cast in place. The Nova Cast makes use of a bolt and nut to ensure it is held firmly. Once secure, you get a cast that lets your arm breathe and provides access to the skin.
The features of the Nova Cast include:
- Comfortable Design – The Nova Cast fits closely to the skin which means you can put on clothing over it. The cast also comes with perforated holes which many patients will find comforting.
- Supporting movement – The Nova Cast supports the limited movement of the limb at angles. This can be comforting to patients as it allows the user to execute tasks that do not stress the limb. The Nova cast is made from thermoplastic which means it is waterproof and can be used to take a bath.
The ActivArmor brand can be said to be a new entrant to the market. ActivArmor 3D prints custom casts for your use. The 3D printing process is similar to others listed here. The process starts with a scan of the hand and broken bone to determine the dimensions and areas that require extensive support. Once the dimensions are gotten, the cast is 3D printed. Like other options, the print comes in two pieces and a clasp is used to fit them onto the hand.
The features of ActivArmor casts include:
- Comfortable Design – The option to customize with a 3D printer generally means the options available to you in terms of material and designs are limitless. ActivArmor casts are 3D printed from thermoplastics which also means they’re waterproof and can be washed. The use of perforations provides access while the clasps ensure it fits correctly on the affected limb.
- Supportive Casts – For many, an un-intrusive cast allows you to execute some of the activities you did before the limb got broken. This is due to the flexibility of the cast and the support it provides for limited movement of the limb.
The parent company of these printed casts bills itself as a provider of 3d printed solutions for fracture treatments. This means it is capable of 3D printing unique casts for unique use cases. The CastPrint 3D printed casts are aesthetically pleasing to look at and serve the practical purpose of keeping the broken bone firmly in place.
The cast comes with the following features:
- Comfortable Design – The use of thermoplastic and perforations ensure you get a cool and comfortable cast that does not cause the discomforts of many experiences with conventional casts. The use of thermoplastic also ensures the cast is waterproof which expands the activities you can do while the bone heals.
- Supportive Casts – CastPrint casts supports the bone structures using its two pieces and a clasp that holds the cast firmly in place. You can choose to put on pieces of clothing that cover the cast without issues as it closely fits the limb.
3D printed casts provide better support than the conventional casts that have been used for centuries. The light-weight nature and flexibility it brings to the table mean it would be replacing the plaster of Paris this decade or next.