Four Ways 3D Printing Is Changing Sports Medicine

3d printing sports medicineIf you have grown up playing and loving sports, but taking your skills to the next level are about as likely as Stewie Griffin hitting a game winning grand slam against Chris Sale, you have other options to keep your head in the game.

One of those opportunities, with extremely high earning potential, is sports medicine where you focus on the physical fitness, treatment and prevention of injuries sustained by athletes at all levels of performance.

The field of sports medicine can range from athletic trainers to physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and much more.

Experts in sports medicine are always pushing for new technological advancements to help solve the problems that plague athletes. 30 years ago a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was the end of a career, now it's a 6-9 month full recovery due to continued research into surgical techniques and rehabilitation.

Now, the world of sports medicine is embracing the potential of 3D printing capabilities to assist many in the athletic realm continue to push forward.

3D printing is not a new technology, but it is becoming less expensive and more accessible to the general public. In 2015, almost $11 billion was spent globally on 3D printing and that is expected to reach $26.7 billion by 2019.

Experts in architecture, mechanics, aeronautics, education and more are relying on 3d printing to advance their discipline and increase productivity and efficiency. Sports medicine is no different, here are four ways 3d printing will continue to change sports medicine:

Develop Prototypes

3D printing is an additive process, because the object is being built by layers of a specific material implemented by a computer-aided design program.

Orthopedic surgeons are able to use additive printing to create a 3D model of a complex fracture which is more tangible than 2D CT scans or X-rays. They will then use the model for pre-surgical planning or sterilize it for the operating room to use as a guidance system.

If the surgeon is replacing a joint, the prototype created could test a new design or create a new instrument specific to one surgery.

Prototyping would also allow for testing a variety of materials such as photopolymers or thermoplastics to decide which would create the best product with the ultimate overall functionality. This type of design allows for easy sharing among colleagues.

With digital scanning and virtual models, doctors can share information and ensure other patients get the same positive results.

Create Custom Safety Products

The 3D process also allows for individual scanning of athletes to create better fitting safety products.

The company Guardlab scans athlete’s teeth to create customized mouth guards for athletes in MMA, football, and baseball. Guardlab also creates a guard for the lower teeth that doesn’t protect as much as keep the jaw in alignment.

This is perfect for any athlete who grits their teeth in exertion.

While these guards might be a little more expensive than the boil and bite guards amateur athletes use, two customized guards will cost $99. Other safety products being printed include shin guards, casts to heal broken bones quicker, helmets to help prevent concussions and footwear.

Gone are the days of the one-size fits all sports products.

Advance Prosthetic Limb Creation

In the 2016 Paralympic Games more than 160 countries sent around 4,350 athletes to compete in 528 medal to prepare for your sports job search ebook

Thanks to 3D printing, athletes with missing limbs and disabilities have a chance to get better fitting prosthetics in a faster time frame.

Typically, the process can take weeks or months to get the fitting correct. With a 3D printer, limbs can be scanned and then the prosthetic can be made in hours with the same customizability as the safety products.

While traditional methods remain less expensive for large-scale productions, something as customized as a prosthetic is becoming relatively cheaper for small production runs.

3D printed prosthetics can be created for hands, arms, legs and even ears.

Bone Implants. Thats Right, Bone Implants.

In the world of extreme sports, accidents happen everyday and sometimes cause serious injury to the athletes. 3D printing is creating a way to speed up recovery and reconstruct broken bones.

Implants are being used in face reconstruction, spinal surgery and cranial plates. While there are prefabricated pieces available for all the above surgeries, they must be milled and shaped to fit. A scan of the area will allow the 3D printer to create a piece that fits perfectly. It typically does not need any additional screws to anchor it to the body.

The 3D pieces are printed with titanium powder and covered in holes to allow the bones to grow through the implement making it a part of the body.

While 3D printing is not used for every injury, it is becoming a more popular way to treat serious conditions and prosthetics. 3D printing is creating prototypes to help doctors explain and practice for complex situations.

The safety of athletes is always a concern of coaches, trainers and fans, but 3D printing is creating customized gear for a better fit and greater protection against harm.

If you want a career in the sports medicine field, stay informed about the additive printing process and the advances being made.
By Audrey Willis | May 22, 2017
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