3D printing is one of the fastest growing industries at the moment. It seems that almost every day people are finding new applications for this technology, especially within the medical field. 3D printing boasts the ability to create complex designs quickly and for prices much lower than ever before. With prosthetists and orthotists requiring custom plastic molds every day, this could revolutionize the business. By scanning residual limbs and using a 3D printer to create a socket, prosthetists would be able to offer patients potentially better-fitting devices the same day of the scan, without going through a middleman. While it has its advantages, there are reasons that technology has not already put prosthetics/orthotics manufacturers out of business.
Current 3D-printed prosthetics may spend more time under repair than being used day-to-day. That’s because the materials used for printing are not durable enough for legitimate use. Most jobs are printed using polylactic acid, an extremely light material that makes it possible to attach 3D-printed hands to the body using nothing more than Velcro straps. While lightweight is good, it also means that they are not strong enough to support any significant weight . Even when using more expensive, durable materials than polylactic acid, 3D-printers work by laying down thin layers of hot plastic. So, when a force is applied parallel to the direction that the layers were laid down, the printed object is strong, but when a force is applied perpendicular to the layers, the device is weaker and subject to cracking . While there are certain materials that are strong enough to overcome this issue, they are so expensive that the process is no longer cheaper than the old-fashioned method.
All of this being said, the technology is exciting, and could have a greater impact in the future. Right now, the technology is useful for generating model prostheses that are not meant to stand up to everyday wear and tear. In some cases, 3D-printed products can be useful for kids who quickly outgrow their devices and cannot afford to invest in something more expensive that won’t fit a month later. Some successful applications have also been seen in scoliosis braces offering more appealing aesthetics and increased comfort .
The bottom line though is that we must be realistic about the uses of 3D-printing in the field of prosthetics and orthotics. 3D-printed materials are not at the point that they can replace current devices to be used every day, but hopefully they can in the future, saving patients money, time, and discomfort.
Guest Blogger – A. Allen
While your body heals physically after an amputation, there is an emotional healing that takes place as well. Neither of the two healing processes are quick, but taking steps to move forward in a healthy way can help promote a positive outcome in the end.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Did you know that scientific study has actually proven that optimism promotes physical health and may improve the well-being of an individual ? While a period of grief, frustration and possibly anger is expected and okay, it is important to then move forward with hope and with positive thoughts. Remind yourself that simply going through this process has shown you that you are stronger than you ever thought you were. Recognize the unique perspective you now have on what is important in life. Identify the creative ways you have learned do tasks that you previously took for granted before your amputation. Be thankful for the strength your body has to adapt to this new change.
Boundaries and Expectations
Learning to navigate the world after an amputation takes time. Identify your new challenges and consider how you can address them. It is important to communicate with your family about what things you need help with and what things you can do for yourself. Don’t be too quick to assume that you can’t do something. You may be surprised how your new resilience can provide just the push you need to figure out good options.
Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being
Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to express your feelings and frustrations without letting them bring you down. It’s also a great way to track your progress; it can encourage you down the road as you look back at how far you’ve come as you record milestones and accomplishments. Never underestimate the power of prayer either. Taking time daily to sit quietly, reflect, pray and journal can provide balance to what otherwise can be an emotional roller coaster.
Despite the changes in your mobility, finding new ways to exercise is still important. While combatting disease, exercise is also proven to improve your mood, your energy and your quality of life [2,3]. Core exercises surrounding your lower back, hips and gluteal muscles can also make a major difference in your ability to comfortably wear a prosthesis . Physical exercise and a healthy diet also combat weight gain, which results in a better fitting prosthesis. Talk with your physical therapist and prosthetist about exercise ideas that are best for you.
Plug in to an amputee support group, organization or sports team. The camaraderie with others who understand your unique challenges renews your confidence in yourself and your abilities. See our previous post on local amputee support groups.
And always remember:
A few weeks ago, one of our friends had a revelation. For over 50 years she has struggled through the challenges of being a diabetic, countless insulin injections, many stays in the hospital, and now, her most dreaded fear, dialysis. Yet recently, during this difficult time of dialysis, she had her greatest revelation. She said for all those years she always relied on the expertise of doctors to treat each issue as it arose, but never considered how SHE was supposed to be part of that equation too! She didn’t fully understand HER part in treating her condition. For the first time, it fully resonated with her that doctors can only do so much. Without her cooperation and active participation in her health, their efforts would never lead to full healing. It was a wake up call! With this new understanding, she has made significant changes in her food choices, exercise habits and more. Now her only regret is not realizing all of this sooner, when it could have made an even bigger difference in her quality of life for a greater number of years.
This story resonated with us because too often we see a disconnect between patients and the variety of medical professionals who are helping them. We feel it is not only important, but absolutely critical to approach prosthetic and orthotic care with a TEAM APPROACH. A collaboration involving doctors, patients, physical therapists, care takers, and prosthetic/orthotic clinicians. We strive to have open lines of communication. This commitment is one of the reasons EastPoint is one of the only providers to offer mobile services. Not only is it convenient for the patients, but, for example, when we can actually join the patient while they are with their physical therapist we are able to better understand their needs and address issues right away. When mobile services are not available, we are still committed to being open and available to talk with the other key parts of the healthcare team and work together to create the most productive outcomes possible.
We realize, however, our role is only one part of the equation. If you have not already, we challenge you, like our friend I mentioned before, to consider how vital your own part is in managing your healthy outcome. What can you do or change to improve your situation, and how can others involved in your healthcare help? Please contact us any time if you have concerns or questions. We want to help you become the best and healthiest version of yourself that you can be.
Here’s Dennie showing off his new Cascade Dafo, Inc. AFOs and KeepingPace shoes.
If you look closely, you may be able to see Scooby-Doo on his new braces!
Kinston, NC, patient Dennie wears his new AFOs and shoes.