Many foot and ankle conditions respond very well to the use of prescription orthotic devices. After completing a biomechanical assessment our podiatrists use a 3D laser scanner to image and copy the shape and size of the foot. A prescription to improve posture and reduce the harmful forces that cause many foot and ankle conditions is then written and sent to the orthotic laboratory.
A system of computer-assisted design (CAD) orthotic fabrication is used by the laboratory to produce a pair of orthotic devices that very accurately fit the foot and provide improved foot and ankle posture and function.
Most patients have 1 to 2 follow up consultations after their orthotics have been dispensed to ensure the best results have been obtained. After that 12 monthly reviews are usually advised. Read more below to know about the process and why it gives the best outcome in terms of orthotic therapy.
What are ankle-foot orthoses?
Ankle-foot orthoses (AFO) are medical devices that support the foot and ankle. Patients wear them to help manage their lower limb impairments.
Orthoses, plural form of orthosis, are also known as orthotic devices. Orthotic therapy is a branch of podiatric medicine that specialises in the design and use of orthoses.
3D Printed Ankle-Foot Orthoses
3D printed ankle-foot orthoses are foot and ankle splints or braces that are manufactured using a 3D printing machine. Also known as a 3D printer, this machine works by depositing the printing material layer by layer until a 3-dimensional object is formed.
To create a specific object, a 3D model of that object must be fed into the 3D printer. A 3D laser scanning machine is used to produce a 3D model of that object.
What are the benefits of 3D Printed AFO?
- Reduce never-ending pain associated with joint deformities.
- Improve balance by allowing your feet to maintain a correct position.
- Provide superior comfort allowing you to stand, walk and run comfortably.
- Help absorb shock and redirect pressure away from painful areas in the foot and ankle.
- Prevent trips and falls resulting from foot drop. A foot drop is a condition when a patient is unable to lift the front part of his/her foot.
- 3D printed AFOs are customised, high-performance orthotics or prosthetic devices.
- Enhances athletic performance. Lowers the risk of injury.
- End-to-end streamlined manufacturing workflow.
- Faster production time so patients receive devices faster.
Digital manufacturing of orthoses replaces the messy traditional casting processes. And also provides a cleaner working environment for the staff.
Finding the best solutions that benefit our customers help speed up our adoption of 3D printing technology. And also improve how we provide exceptional foot care to our patients.
What are they made of?
Traditional AFOs are handmade using plaster of Paris. The plaster is poured into a mould, in this case, the patient’s lower limb or foot.
Plaster of Paris is a fine white powder made of gypsum. This powder hardens when moistened and allowed to dry.
The gypsum mineral component in the plaster is abundant in Paris. This also explains how it got its name. The manufacture and use of plaster of Paris have been around since ancient times.
For 3D printed AFOs, the materials used for printing varies and may depend on the assessment of the patient’s foot. These materials include:
- Epoxy photopolymers
- Silicone rubber, etc.
How are they made?
Once set, the “negative impression”, also known as the mould, is removed. The mould is then filled with liquid plaster to form the cast or the “positive model”.
Next, the positive model undergoes a series of modifications. Pieces of plaster are removed or added by hand.
And then, the thermoplastic vacuum forming process is applied. This process involves heating a sheet of plastic. When the plastic becomes soft, it is then wrapped over the positive model.
A vacuum is applied to suck the plastic sheet into the positive model. And then the plastic sheet is ejected from the cast.
The final process involves removing excess plastic material and smoothing the surfaces. The orthosis is now ready for patient fitting.
Making orthoses the traditional way is hard work, time-consuming and costly. Moreover, there are only a few design options available/
More Facts on 3D Printed AFOs
3D printing doesn’t undergo the steps associated with traditional methods of making orthoses.
Also, the freedom to design any project is limitless. There is no need to follow traditional design standards allowing the development of customized AFOs.
Customized AFOs provide improved function, better fit and enhanced aesthetics. They help the patient get around better. It is because the design is based on the patient’s biomechanical assessment.
Biomechanics is our bodies response to:
- the force exerted by gravity against our bones and
- the forces exerted by our muscles
Customised 3D printed AFOs enhance:
- patient satisfaction
- compliance with AFO usage and
- overall well-being
How do we do it?
Many foot and ankle conditions respond very well with prescription orthotic devices.
A biomechanical assessment is one of the early steps to designing an orthosis for a patient.
Our podiatrist carefully examines the patient’s limbs for the:
- strengths and weaknesses, etc.
Examining the lower limbs as a whole is crucial since the legs, foot and ankle are closely connected. If a patient experiences pain in the ankle, it could be caused by a weakness or problem in some areas of the leg or the foot.
After completing the assessment, our podiatrists will then use a 3D laser scanner. This machine will image and copy the shape and size of the patient’s foot.
The podiatrist then writes a prescription and uploads it to the orthotic laboratory. The prescription will help to improve a patient’s posture. Likewise, it will help reduce his/her many foot and ankle conditions.
To create a prescribed orthosis, our laboratory uses a CAD or computer-assisted design system. Our laboratory designs an orthosis that will fit a patient’s foot perfectly. A better-fitting orthosis improves the posture and function of the foot and ankle.
Most patients have 1 to 2 follow up consultations after their orthotic devices have been dispensed. This is to ensure the best results have been obtained. After that 12 monthly reviews are usually advised.
It is worthy to point out that custom-made orthoses are not as readily available as over-the-counter orthotic inserts. But since the orthosis is designed after consulting a health professional, the patient always gets the best results.
It may cost more, but the custom orthosis will address the root of the foot problem. This is essential since our feet carry all our body weight, and it is estimated that we take 10,000 steps a day.
If your feet and ankles are aching daily, you may have plantar fasciitis or struggling with flat feet. The best way to address any foot problem is to have a podiatrist examine your feet. He will decide whether you need orthotics or not.
Let us address the root of your foot problem today!
Here at Adelaide Foot and Ankle, we treat a variety of foot and ankle conditions. We provide you with a custom-fitted orthosis to help reduce your foot pain. It will adjust your movement patterns to reduce the overall strain through your body.
Schedule an appointment with our expert foot doctors/podiatrist today. And get a thorough examination of your foot and ankle to make sure your orthosis works well for you.