ActivArmor, based in Colorado, offers a range of 3D-printed casts and splints. The customized casts are breathable and water-proof, and can be made to either be fixed in place, or removable, as required. The company reports that patients wearing the new casts can complete a greater range of activities during their recovery, including swimming.
The casts are designed to be comfortable and can reduce the skin irritation associated with conventional casts by minimizing sweat build-up and allowing patients to wash the casted area. The production process involves a scan of the injured limb, resulting in a 3D map that ActivArmor uses to 3D-print a custom cast from high-temperature thermosetting plastic.
Physicians can customize a variety of cast parameters, including the thickness and shape, and can also opt for various access points to allow them to perform complementary therapies on the affected limb, such as techniques to reduce pain or muscle atrophy.
The designers were inspired to create the casts when they noticed that children often struggle to keep their casts clean and dry, leading to a variety of problems. 3D-printing has been around for a while, so it was an intuitive leap to apply this versatile technique to custom casts.
You can see a video about the project below:
Medgadget had the opportunity to ask ActivArmor Founder, Diana Hall, some questions about the product and the concept.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: How did this idea come about? Was there one incident that inspired the idea, or highlighted the need for a new type of cast?
Diana Hall: I am a chemical engineer and had been working in Fortune 500 companies in engineering and software, and took some time off when my daughter was born to run a mentoring program for children in poverty. Some of the children suffered domestic violence and substandard living conditions, and would often come in with filthy, archaic casts – they couldn’t even wash their hands to have a snack! I knew that the technology was there to provide a better, more hygienic, more comfortable solution to traditional casting, so I looked into why it wasn’t available to the general public. I addressed the design, regulatory and business process issues, and brought 3D printed casts/splints to the U.S. consumer marketplace. They are now being provided in clinics across the country.
Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the drawbacks of conventional casts. How does the ActivArmor cast improve on these?
Diana Hall: Traditional casts are stuffy, bulky, heavy, and trap moisture and bacteria against the skin. You can’t continue your normal lifestyle activities like swimming and training, or even just washing your hands and taking a shower! They often smell and cause skin break-down and irritation.
ActivArmor is breathable and water-safe. You can do all of your normal day-to-day tasks while being immobilized – gardening, doing the dishes, etc. Its hygienic aspects allow you to continue to work in fields like food-handling and healthcare. The custom design makes it comfortable for each patient’s unique body map, and adaptable for use with improved healing technologies. It is a great option for pediatrics and athletes, those with cast claustrophobia, as well as for those with diabetic or thinning skin issues. It can be used as a removable splint or a fixed cast, is reusable, and can transition through the healing phases with the patient, making it a time and money saver for both the providing doctors and the patient!
Medgadget: So, how does the process work for a patient being fitted for a cast? How long does it take for the new cast to be ready?
Diana Hall: Any doctor can prescribe ActivArmor, you simply need a prescription for a custom splint, and make an appointment at any of the clinics listed on our website. There, they will perform a safe, painless, 30-second body image scan of your limb and put you in a temporary splint or bi-valved cast for 3-4 business days while your ActivArmor device is custom designed and manufactured specifically for you and shipped back to the clinic. You simply stop back in and they pop it on you, make sure you are comfortable, and you’re back to normal activities! You don’t need to have your cast cut off and re-applied for future exams/x-rays, nor have another splint made for support later in the healing phases.
Medgadget: How have patients found the casts? What types of activities can they do when wearing an ActivArmor cast compared with a conventional cast?
Diana Hall: Our patients LOVE our casts and splints and can’t say enough about them. You will find patient testimonials on our website, Instagram, facebook, etc. and more come in every day. We have professional athletes swimming, ice-bathing and wearing them with other technologies like bone and muscle stimulators to reduce their healing/recovery times and get back into the game quicker. We have parents praising the hygienic aspects and convenience, as well as crediting ActivArmor for saving their kids’ summer vacations. We have seen improved comfort and compliance with elderly and diabetic patients, and improved mobility and reports of reduced pain medication in some cases. A few patients were even able to avoid amputation! It’s definitely a game-changer in orthopedics.
Medgadget: Can you tell us a little about how physicians can customize the cast? How does this help with patient well-being and recovery?
Diana Hall: ActivArmor empowers every physician with unlimited design options specific for each patient’s unique bodymap, injury, condition, and lifestyle. They are completely custom designed in thickness, coverage area, patient positioning, closure mechanism, and ANY doctor can prescribe it for their patient. Incisions and post-surgical hardware can be exposed and protected for observation and treatment, which can help avoid or identify infections earlier. It is adaptable for use with advanced technologies such as bone stimulators, biomonitors, NMES, and TENS.
Patients credit ActivArmor with reducing the stigma and embarrassment of immobilization devices, and improving their outlook on their injury and recovery process.
Medgadget: Where do you see this type of casting technology going in the future? Do you think that all casts will eventually be 3D-printed?
Diana Hall: ActivArmor will never completely replace casting and splinting because you will always have displaced fractures that need to be reduced in the cast, and acute injuries with initial edema phases. But after trying the process out, many of our providing clinics now use ActivArmor casts and splints as their primary immobilization method.
We have barely scratched the surface on what we can do with digital exoskeletal technologies. Standardized, off-the-shelf products with inventory are becoming obsolete as the speed and ease of technology improves and costs fall. When you have the ability to fit any human with any custom designed and fit products, the sky is the limit, not just in casting, but in customized medicine in general.