There are so many people around the world who are in dire need of prosthetic limbs. Developing countries are the most affected regions where amputations are caused by anything from traffic accidents, land mines, diseases like diabetes, tumors, and infections.
In some cases, a person may have been born with a missing leg or arm, leaving behind a void that can only be filled by a prosthetic limb. Unfortunately, there is a stack shortage of experts, materials, and prosthetic centers that can produce enough of these limbs to meet the overwhelming demand.
Lately, experts have been turning to 3D printing technology with the hope that it can provide a viable solution to this challenge. But can we put our faith in 3D printing to solve this crisis?
Ever since its introduction, 3D printing technology has exponentially expanded its application; cutting across all industries from manufacturing to academics and sports. Thanks to advancements in this technology, 3D printing has also begun to radically transform medical care.
A fine example of its application is in the production of prosthetic limbs. Although this is still in its trial phase, the prospects look quite promising! 3D printing makes for a much easier approach to designing prosthetics compared to the traditional method, and there are further benefits involved.
The procedure simply involves scanning the stump of the amputated limb with a computer so that a 3D model of the stump is projected on the screen. From here, orthopedic experts analyze the model and digitally adjust it before sending it to the printer for production.
The printing process takes a matter of hours and the printed socket is connected to a plastic prosthetic limb, after which the patient can test it and if it fits start using it. This a very simple method, unlike the traditional approach whereby the patient had to be encased in plaster; a very intrusive and traumatic approach, especially for children.
With 3D printing, you don’t have to trouble yourself with the plasters anymore when treating patients in remote areas. All you need to do is scan the stump of the limb then send the 3D model digitally to anywhere around the world where experts can assess and adjust it before printing the socket.
In the end, the patient gets a prosthetic limb that has been custom-made for them. However, you will need a large 3D printer that can print the socket model without running out of the room. Patients who have tested 3D printed prosthetics reveal that they are softer, lighter, and more comfortable to use than traditional ones.
Furthermore, it is a quicker, cheaper method of producing prosthetics and makes it easier to rehabilitate disadvantaged communities in regions where you won’t find any prosthetic centers. It is an important tool that can be used to advance humanitarian efforts around the world.
On the downside, the biggest problem with prosthetic sockets is that they are quite unstable and tend to break relatively quickly, especially if it was produced by a cheap 3D printer. The danger here is that the patient may fall and get injured if the artificial leg breaks unexpectedly.
Although 3D printing technology has shown great potential when it comes to the role it can play in the production of prosthetic legs, some experts cast doubt upon the short time it takes to print a socket and the effectiveness of the technology.
Nevertheless, this should be good news to any victim hoping to own a prosthetic limb and Joan’s story is a good example of how 3D printing technology is giving amputees a new lease on life!