3D printing is increasingly becoming an integral part of the production and manufacturing cycle of prostheses, especially of the upper limbs. In addition, 3D printing can provide answers to several tangible problems, including reduced access to conventional prostheses in a timely manner and, in some cases, limited access by users. Reduced cost and timely access to 3D prostheses and orthoses enhance the process of technological development, but another element that affects the user’s decision-making process is the element of personalisation of aids. With a 3D printer, personalised anatomical models can be made using real data from each individual patient to address specific pathologies.
In the field of competitive sports, the first 3D printed sports prosthesis is that of Denise Schindler, a German Paralympic athlete with a right leg amputation.
As well as being considered a cheaper alternative to the classic prosthesis produced using traditional techniques, 3D printing technology offers unique customisation possibilities. For example, from an aesthetic point of view, unique pieces are produced to embellish carbon fibre prostheses as shown in the image below. In addition, there are 3D-printed prostheses that are also used to reduce physical effort and improve performance during sports training.
The latter is the case of Marco Milanesi, a professional handbiker who suffered from inflammation in his upper limbs caused by standard pedalling systems. The Elmec company has created a customised solution, namely a 3D-printed, ergonomic and lightweight prosthesis that adapts perfectly to the athlete’s body. The project made it possible to create a glove that is open at the top, using nylon, a material best suited to the athlete’s needs.