Three Medical Applications Of 3D Printing

3D printing is one of the newest and most versatile forms of rapid prototyping and prosthetic development. 3D printing is an additive method of manufacturing where layers of photopolymer plastic, wax, ceramics, or even living tissue are stacked vertically to create three-dimensional objects from a CAD model. While 3D printing, like that done at places like EIGERlab, has picked up an enthusiast following that uses the technology for consumer applications, there are several medical applications of 3D printing as well.

External Prosthetics

3D printing has provided an alternate method for creating functional prosthetics. Facial replacements like prosthetic ears or noses can be created without the expensive process of sculpting a wax replica and creating a silicone cast from the replica. Instead, the injured area is digitally photographed, and the photograph is converted to a digital model that a 3D printer can use to create a prosthetic. This reduces the time it takes to produce prosthetics and also allows replacement prosthetics to be created more easily if the original is damaged.

Researchers from Washington State University have even used 3D printers to create temporary replacement bone. When a patient has a fractured bone or skull, a CT scan is taken of the damaged area and the scan results are converted to a CAD model. The temporary replacement is made from a composite of calcium phosphate, silicon and zinc. The bone surrounding the damaged area can grow onto the replacement bone and heal until the replacement dissolves, leaving healthy bone in its place.


Dentistry is one of the most promising fields for the rapid uptake and expansion of 3D printing. Currently the biggest use for 3D printing in dentistry is for practicing invasive procedures. MRI and CT scans can be used to create 3D replicas of patients’ jawbones and teeth. These replicas can be used for practice runs by oral surgeons so that they are familiar with a patient’s periodontal structure, minimizing the risk of accidental damage during the actual procedure.

3D printing can also be used to create functional dental prosthetics. 3D printing dental crowns and implants will be much cheaper than dental porcelain and ceramic, and will soon be comparable in strength to traditional materials. Oral surgeons are also experimenting with large-scale maxillofacial replacements. Oral surgeons at the Biomedical Research Institute of Hasselt University have succeeded in implanting a 3D printed titanium mandibular implant in an 83-year-old woman

Organ Supplementation

Doctors are experimenting with using 3D printing to supplement complex structures on the inside of the human body. While full 3D printed organs like kidneys, hearts, and lungs cannot yet be created, surgeons are able to supplement damaged organs with 3D printed materials to improve their function. 3D printing these materials is much more affordable than creating them using traditional methods, and they are often more accurately designed since they can be made from the results of body scans that are fed directly to the 3D printer.

Tracheomalacia is a life-threatening condition that has been treated with 3D printing. In this condition, some of the tissue in the trachea is not strong enough to support breathing, periodically collapsing and cutting off the airway. 3D splints can be inserted in the airway to hold it open in the area where it normally collapses.

Surgeons have also implanted artificial heart valves made from 3D printing. Specially designed 3D printers can create heart valves from living tissues. This is especially useful for newborns with congenital heart defects, whose hearts cannot typically support prosthetic valves made from artificial materials.

3D printing will continue to revolutionize the medical field as the technology further develops. Doctors may soon be able to provide full prosthetic limbs and complete organ replacements made from 3D printed materials.

Learn More

Four Things You’re Doing Everyday To Wreck Your Back

Back pain is one of the most common complaints among Americans today. Even though there are many causes of chronic back pain, many people are doing simple things everyday that compound into unbearable pain later. Take a look at the following list to see whether you are inadvertently causing yourself back pain (and should maybe see a chiropractic professional).

Using A Laptop On Your Lap

You’re probably comfortable checking your email or working from home sitting on the couch with your laptop and a cup of coffee, but your back doesn’t agree. Sitting with the laptop on the lap naturally creates bad posture. When typing with a laptop on your lap:

  • your shoulders naturally hunch forward. You need to look down, and reach your arms out in order to type. The neck also has to support the head in a forward position, which strains the trapezius muscles– the muscle bars that sit above the shoulders but below the neck.
  • you start to slouch, which removes the natural curve of the spine. As you continue working, you will slouch down, curving the lower spine out and placing increased pressure on the lower back. Over time, people who type in this position will develop a sore neck and consistent lower back pain as they work without lumbar support. 

Doing The Wrong Ab Workouts

It’s important to work your abs in order to get sufficient core strength– in fact, having a strong core can prevent back pain because the abdominal muscles will help to stabilize movement through the spine. However, many people work the abs incorrectly, placing intense force on the back.

Sit ups, for example, are one of the worst exercises for the spine. They force the natural curve of of the spine to the floor and increase pressure on the hip flexors. As this muscles tighten, they begin to pull at muscles in the back, leading to intense lower back pain. 

To strengthen core strength in a healthy manner, it’s better to so exercises that keep the stomach toward the ground, like planks with leg lifts. 

Wearing High Heels

Sit ups may flatten out the natural curve of the spine, but wearing heels does the opposite. It causes the spine to over-curve in order to compensate for the artificial tilt that heels provide. The foot should not be elevated in this way, because it eventually causes the muscles in the back and legs to shorten, and it can can make the tendons in the foot stiff and inflexible. As the body adapts to heel wearing, muscle spasms in the back and legs become more common. You are also at a greater risk for injury because the shifting of weight makes you more prone to falls.

Wearing A Heavy Backpack

Students have a hard life, but their backs probably take the worst hit during long school days. Nearly 1 out of 5 students see a doctor for back pain during schools, and doctors believe that heavy packs are the cause. Carrying too much weight in bag on the back causes the body to overcompensate by leaning forward, which strains the shoulders, the neck, and puts more stress on the curve of the spine. When you need to carry a pack for school or work:

  • choose packs with two straps, a chest strap, and a waist belt.
  • never sling the bag over one shoulder. This puts even great pressure on the spine, and makes it more likely that you will cause injury to yourself because the body is not properly aligned.
  • try to carry less weight, especially if you are not very heavy. Heavier people can handle a heavier load, but to be on the safe side, keep your pack as light as possible, even if you have to carry some books in your arms. Your pack should never be more than 20% of your body weight
Learn More