• If you’ve ever broken anything in your life, you’ll know the first step towards healing a fracture: make sure it doesn’t move! The result is that you’ll be spending weeks with a cumbersome, unwieldy splint or a cast, depending on where the fracture is. But perhaps we won’t have to limit our movement in the future, thanks to 3D printing. A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore and the Singaporean National University Hospital have developed the 3D printed Bend splint, a revolutionary flexible splint that enables some movement while healing a proximal interphalangeal joint fracture or finger dislocation.

    Proximal interphalangeal joint fractures or finger dislocations are the most common type of finger injury, and tend to occur during everyday activities, from working to exercising. For instance, catching a baseball is a very good way to dislocate a finger. These dislocations cause a lot of discomfort, and need to be reduced as quickly as possible. If not, significant ligament, tendon, or soft tissue damage won’t heal properly, resulting in limited movement and permanent disfiguration. Not exactly life threatening, but very annoying.

    Usually, this means walking around with an irritating stiff finger splint for several weeks, but Bend presents a clever alternative. As students Lim Loren and Russel Chew explain on Behance, this clever little 3D printed splint provides a more effective and lifestyle-friendly dynamic traction solution. “Bend is not just more effective, it is easier to use and has the possibility of being more affordable compared to any other current practices in the medical field,” they say. It’s sleek and simple form isn’t just for looks, but actually plays a very practical role in healing the finger. The spring-like structure is actually a mechanism that provides the traction force that keeps the finger in place to heal, while still allowing the finger to move while it is worn. It is expected that it will need to be worn for just four to six weeks.

    It’s a very clever system that simply dresses down the stiffening mechanics to its core, and the researchers found that quite a lot of movement is still possible without disturbing the traction force. A movement angle of up to 50 degrees is still possible without hindering recovery – 30 degrees more than existing finger splints allow for. To achieve this, Bend only requires five components: the Base Support, Splint, Cap, Nail Mount and String. It doesn’t even require a k-wire incision if surgery is needed, reducing the chance of infection. “By using an external method of mounting a string onto the nail by adhesive, it would provide enough strength that is needed for the traction force,” they say of their alternative.

    What’s more, the Bend can be customized to suit each wearer, and is developed through easily obtained medical data. “Bend only requires 4 key measurements based off the X-rays that were used to diagnoses the injuries, in order to create a custom fit for the patient,” they write. “Bend is designed with mass customization in mind. It is 3D printed in nylon, and Bend’s physical size, and mechanical properties are optimized through this algorithm.” Could this easy-to-wear splint be a glimpse of the future of fracture healing devices?

     

     

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