Are 3D Printed Casts the Right Choice for You?

A 3d printed wrist cast
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A 3D printer may look like something out of a science fiction movie, but this cutting-edge technology is becoming increasingly common in the medical world. Now, a new use for 3D printing is emerging in the field of orthopedics. In particular, 3D printed casts are an alternative to traditional plaster or fiberglass casts.

While 3D printed casts are not yet widely available, they are becoming popular as more patients learn about the benefits that they offer. This blog post will discuss how 3D printed casts work and why you might choose one over a traditional plaster or fiberglass cast.

What Are 3D Printed Casts? 

A 3D printed cast is a medical device created using a 3D printer to support a broken bone as it heals. Unlike traditional casting, 3D printed casts are produced using additive manufacturing technology. This means that they can be custom designed to fit the specific contours of a patient's limb. 

3D printed casts can be manufactured with an open design that allows the skin to breathe and helps prevent skin irritation. In addition, 3D printing technology makes it possible to produce casts in different colors and designs.

How Do 3D Printed Casts Work?

A 3D printed hand and computer model
phonlamaiphoto - stock.adobe

A 3D scan is made of the injured limb to make the cast. This scan is then used to create a 3D model of the limb. An engineer uses that model to create a cast design that will fit the limb. The design is then sent to a 3D printer, which creates the cast using a high-temperature thermoplastic. The final product is then put on the limb and can be removed when the injury has healed.

Step 1: Scan

The process of creating a 3D-printed cast begins with taking a scan of the patient’s limb. This may include x-rays, CT scans, or other imaging techniques. This allows the doctor to determine the broken bone's exact position and the shape of the patient's limb. 

Step 2: 3D modeling

Once the scans are complete, a 3D model of the limb is created. The patient's hand is scanned with a 3D scanner to create an accurate and detailed three-dimensional model. This model can then be used to create a custom device design without the need for casting. 

Step 3: 3D printing

The next step is to print the cast. This can be done using a high-temperature thermoplastic or by sintering powder. The print may require post-processing to make the materials safe to touch and strong to wear for long periods of time.

What Are 3D Casts Made Of?

Most 3D casts are created using a high-temperature thermoplastic. The plastic is heated to a high temperature and then cooled, creating a hard, durable cast that can support broken bones or immobilize joints for non-surgical treatment. The exact composition varies depending on the manufacturer, but it typically includes a variety of polymers and resins. 

The Benefits of 3D Printed Casts 

3D-printed casts offer a number of benefits over traditional plaster casts or fiberglass casts, including a better fit, greater breathability, and decreased itchiness. They are much easier to remove, so you can wear them in showers or baths without worrying about this type of cast getting wet. They are also weather-resistant, so you don't have to worry about them getting ruined if caught in the rain.

Additionally, 3D printed casts can be custom-fit to your body, making them more comfortable to wear and less likely to cause skin irritation. Finally, because they are lightweight and breathable, 3D printed casts are less likely to cause swelling and discomfort than traditional casts.

Drawbacks of 3D Printed Casts 

Although they offer a number of advantages, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. One of the main risks associated with 3D-printed casts is that the cast may not fit properly if the limb is swollen during the initial scan. When swelling occurs, the affected area can increase in size, which may cause your print to not fit properly. The process will then need to be repeated, which can be both time-consuming and costly. 

Another limitation is that 3D printed casts are not suitable for patients who need immediate care. This is because it can take some time to create and process the print, which may not be practical for patients with serious fractures. Additionally, 3D printed casts are not suitable for patients who require manipulation of the bones back into place. 

The last disadvantage to consider is that 3D printed casts are more expensive than traditional casts, and insurance companies may not cover the cost. Although this technology is constantly improving, it is important to be aware of the potential disadvantages before choosing a 3D printed cast for your injury.

3D Printed Casts Cost

Close-up look of a 3D printer
phonlamaiphoto - stock.adobe

Although 3D printing technology is often associated with a low-cost manufacturing process, the reality is that the cost of 3D printed medical devices can be quite high. When it comes to the cost of 3D printed casts, there are a few key factors to consider.

First, the materials used in 3D printing are typically more expensive than traditional plaster or fiberglass. Second, the scanning equipment required to create a 3D model of the injury can be fairly costly. Finally, most hospitals or clinics would need to hire additional personnel to operate the 3D printers to create the designs or hire an outside firm to complete the tasks.

Overall, the cost of 3D printed casts is likely to be higher than traditional casting methods. However, it is worth noting that the price may come down as the technology becomes more common. Additionally, some insurers may start to cover the cost of 3D printed casts as they become more widely used for bone fractures.

3D Printed Cast Care

When it comes to caring for a 3D printed cast, the process is quite simple. Unlike traditional plaster or fiberglass casts, which must be kept dry at all times, 3D printed casts are water-safe and can be fully submerged. This makes showering and bathing easier for patients, as they no longer need to worry about keeping their cast dry. Wounds are visible through the material of the 3D-printed cast, and they can be monitored at all times.

Is There an Alternative to a 3D Printed Cast? 

While 3D-printed casts have been hailed as a game-changer in the medical field, they still have several drawbacks. Cast21 was developed as an innovative solution to overcome the problems of current casting technology. 

FDA listed, the Cast21 system is the next generation of cast technology. The injured limb is simply placed into an open lattice sleeve and filled with a fast-curing proprietary formula. This patented system creates a perfect-fit, fast-acting solution for joint care. The result is a strong, yet seemingly weightless cast alternative that is comfortable to wear. In addition, Cast21 is waterproof, so patients can easily shower, and swim allowing patients to stay active while they heal.

With its unique design and versatile applications, Cast21 is changing the way we think about healing. It's no wonder that Cast21 is quickly becoming the preferred choice for patients and doctors worldwide.

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