• News New Blog Banner

  • 3D Technology: All That's Fit to Print?

    When it comes to 3D printing and physical therapy, the future is now—well, almost now.

    In the September issue of PT in Motion magazine: "A New Dimension to Physical Therapy," a feature article that explores the current use of 3D as well as its challenges and possibilities, as seen through the eyes of physical therapists (PTs), a physical therapist assistant (PTA), and a professor of visual arts who heads the University of North Georgia's 3D printing efforts.

    The APTA members interviewed for the story say that in many ways 3D printing has arrived in physical therapy—and already is allowing for the creation of customized equipment and devices, many of which can be produced relatively quickly, and some at a fraction of the cost of their non-3D printed counterparts. The possibilities for orthotics and adaptive equipment for pediatric patients are just some of the reasons the interviewees are excited about the technology's future.

    "Future," however, is the key word: While 3D technology has improved dramatically since its debut in the 1990s, refinements still are needed. And the cost of the devices—particularly those capable of manufacturing with multiple materials—must come down before they become standard equipment in a physical therapy clinic.

    The challenges aren't just technological—a clinic has legal and regulatory considerations should it decide to go all-in on 3D printing now or in the future. Patient safety is an issue, of course, but so is the line between a clinic that produces the occasional customized orthotic and an equipment manufacturer, and the attendant regulatory oversight that entails.

    Still, those challenges shouldn't overshadow 3D printing's potential in physical therapy, and they certainly shouldn't cause physical therapy education programs to shy away from incorporating 3D printing concepts into their curricula.

    Robert Latz, PT, DPT, who was interviewed for the article, says there's good reason for practicing PTs and physical therapy students to keep up with the technology and not wait until it's perfected.

    "We need to learn the technology and apply the development process to this new technology," Latz says in the article. "If we do not do this, someone else will. I guarantee that the technology of 3D printing is only going to continue to improve and that the cost to create with this technology will continue to decrease."

    "A New Dimension to Physical Therapy" is featured in the September issue of PT in Motion magazine and is open to all viewers—pass it along to nonmember colleagues to show them 1 of the benefits of belonging to APTA. Also open to all: highlights from the 2019 APTA NEXT Conference and Exhibition.