Wednesday, February 10, 2016

3D Printing May Be The Next Step For Physical Therapy

            In today’s world, the concept of 3D printing is becoming more common and starting to be integrated into everyday life. During the Super Bowl this past weekend, Thomas Davis became the first player in the NFL to use a brace built by a 3D printer. Davis’s arm had been broken during a game against the Arizona Cardinals and was surgically repaired by implanting a metal plate and twelve screws. Currently, his forearm is lined with stitches. In order to play in the game against the Denver Broncos two weeks later, he wore a brace designed by Whiteclouds 3D Printing. The brace was customized to his arm and injury for highest level of protection. By lining the brace with a material called Poron XRD, the brace could be flexible while absorbing any impact. This design is perfect for playing football safely while not impacting his performance.  

            This development in 3D printing could be very important in coming years for the medical field. Physical therapists could benefit greatly from personalized braces. The printed braces have the advantage of being fit to the patient’s body, which would provide maximum comfort. The brace could be even more beneficial because the materials are picked specifically for the injury. Different materials can allow the brace to be as flexible or stable as it needs to be to help the patient rehabilitate faster. If personalized braces are advanced enough to allow a man with a broken arm to play football, why couldn’t they be used for patients trying to return to their daily lives?

The process of 3D printing is also starting to be used with orthopedic casts by a company called Fathom Study. These could be favorable because they solve frequent problems that patients face when they wear a cast. Normally, casts prevent patients from traveling, due to the risk of swelling. If someone gets a lightweight alternative instead of a normal cast, they can’t bear any weight. The 3D printed cast solves both of these problems by having the ability to travel and being strong enough to carry weight.

The medical field should look towards 3D printing for the future of patient rehabilitation. Personalized casts and braces will cut down on the time it takes injured people to return to health and their everyday lives.



  1. My first thoughts after reading this blog were about how impressive and how far 3D printing has come since I first heard about it. The whole idea of using a printer to print anything other than paper is mind-blowing. I never thought I would have been reading a blog referencing an NFL player using a brace created from a 3D printer that was flexible enough to absorb any impact so that his performance would not be affected. I liked the aspect of how different materials could be used to create the brace so that the brace could be either more flexible or more stable. I was wondering if in the future they would be able to create a 3D printer that would also be able to print not only a stable or flexible cast, but a cast with a lined material that would be able to help heal a patient sooner. Or, if they would be able to create a cast that is water proof? I liked how this 3D cast was able to solve issues that people usually have with normal casts such as allowing people to travel as well as being strong enough to carry weight. Although I liked these aspects of this cast, I had a few questions after reading this blog. My first question was as to how long it takes to print these casts and my second question was if a 3D printed cast was more expensive than a regular cast? If so how much more? One last issue I was concerned with was to as if this 3D printer would create or take away jobs? It is a possibility that this 3D printer for casts would create jobs since someone needs to design the printer. However, once it is created would this 3D printer take away whoever's job it was to build a cast?

  2. The use of 3D printing to create braces for injuries seems to be an excellent idea and utilization of technology. I think the best part about it is the speed that the brace is able to be created. Since athletes are constantly getting hurt and playing through injuries, I think the use of braces created by 3D printing allows players to play through injuries like they have been doing without further injuring themselves because of the protection from the brace. It is very impressive that technology has come this far that it is able to analyze the injury and make braces out of different materials based on which material would help heal it best. I wish the article mentioned the different types of materials that the braces could be made out of so the readers could get a better understanding of how the printer determines which would work best. I am also curious to know if the braces that are made by the 3D printer are meant to be used temporarily or long-term. Since most injuries, such as a broken arm or leg, require the patient wear a cast for a few weeks until the body part is healed, I wonder if the 3D brace is equivalent to wearing a cast or if it is temporary and the patient still needs to wear a cast to stabilize it more. Since Victoria mentioned that people are able to travel while wearing this brace, it seems as if it is a better alternative to wearing a cast, especially for professional athletes who constantly have to fly. I am curious to know the cost of 3D printing for braces and if the price of them would decrease if they became more popular. I think this is a great invention and a major step towards more advanced medical technology.

  3. I found this article to be very interesting. I am fascinated by 3D printing technology. I feel like the 3D printing industry has become increasingly popular in such a short amount of time. Prior to reading this article, I had not heard of the story that NFL player Thomas Davis was playing in a 3D printed brace, which is seriously impressive considering the injuries he sustained. In your blog I think you made great points. I agree that if it is possible for someone to play such a hands-on sport like football in a 3D printed brace, then the possibilities of 3D printing in orthopedics are endless. However, I am interested to hear about further research conducted about athletes playing in casts and braces… though the new technology seems very safe, if something went wrong it may lead to lawsuits in the future. Another point that I find attractive about 3D printing: it usually does not cost that much. I think this article could have gone into more detail about pricing. Would the 3D printed casts and braces cost less than your typical casts/braces to manufacture? Or will they be more expensive because they are so customized? Though this does not have to do with orthopedics, I read recently that a man 3D printed himself braces for his teeth that were a lot like Invisalign. His experiment proved to be a success and in the end it only cost him $60. I’m also wondering how flexible the casts and braces are. Are they lighter than other casts? And are they waterproof?


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