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Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease that can lead to pain, stiffness, and deformity, often with marked involvement of the small joints of the foot and ankle. Orthotic devices are commonly prescribed for this condition to lessen symptoms and improve function and mobility, and customized devices are most effective. The work reported in this paper has examined the feasibility of using an additive manufacturing-based approach to manufacture customized orthoses. In order to test feasibility, orthoses have been manufactured using the additive manufacturing technology of selective laser sintering, and have been evaluated through a small-scale patient trial ( n = 7). The trial indicated that these orthoses performed as well as the patients' current prescribed customized devices in terms of the observed gait and subjective evaluation of fit and comfort. It is concluded that the feasibility of the additive manufacturing approach has been demonstrated, and further development of a mass customization system to deliver orthoses, together with exploitation of the design freedom offered by the manufacturing method, will give the overall approach significant clinical potential.
Date of Publication: July 2010