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3D printed wrist splints a boost for arthritis sufferers

29 June 2014

Clinicians with no CAD experience may soon be able to design and make custom-made 3D printed wrist splints for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

A Loughborough University lecturer has developed a computer software concept that will enable clinicians with no experience in Computer Aided Design (CAD) to design and make custom-made 3D printed wrist splints for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

“I wanted to give clinicians the ability to make splints they have not been able to make before," says Dr Abby Paterson, from the Design School.

“They can improve the aesthetics, the fit, and integrate extra bits of functionality they couldn’t do before as a result of our Additive Manufacturing facilities here at Loughborough University.

“Thanks to our Objet Connex machine, we can integrate multiple materials in a single splint such as rubber-like integral hinges or cushioning features but, more importantly, the specialised software prototype we’ve developed will enable clinicians to design these splints for their patients.”

The 3D printed splints are not only more comfortable and attractive but potentially cheaper than the current ones that are ‘ugly, bulky, and can make a patients arm sweat’. As a result patients do not use them as often as they should.

The splints, which provide joint protection, rest, and promote pain relief, could be a major boost for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common type of arthritis in the UK which affects more than 400,000 people.

The splints are made by scanning a patient’s arm in the ‘appropriate position’. A 3D model splint is then designed based on the scan to generate a computer model.

The 3D printer can then produce as many splints as are needed at the touch of a button. They can be any colour, feature multiple materials, have a lattice design to aid ventilation and any type of fastening the patient requires.

The 3D CAD software prototype was shown to certified splinting practitioners, such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

“The practitioners were very excited by new, novel ideas to expand the possibilities available to them, such as integrated rubber borders for increased comfort,” says Dr Paterson.

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