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The design of foot and ankle orthoses is currently limited by the methods used to fabricate the devices, particularly in terms of geometric freedom and potential to include innovative new features. Additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, where objects are constructed via a series of sub-millimetre layers of a substrate material, may present the opportunity to overcome these limitations and allow novel devices to be produced that are highly personalised for the individual, both in terms of fit and functionality.
Two novel devices, a foot orthosis (FO) designed to include adjustable elements to relieve pressure at the metatarsal heads, and an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) designed to have adjustable stiffness levels in the sagittal plane, were developed and fabricated using AM. The devices were then tested on a healthy participant to determine if the intended biomechanical modes of action were achieved.
The adjustable, pressure relieving FO was found to be able to significantly reduce pressure under the targeted metatarsal heads. The AFO was shown to have distinct effects on ankle kinematics which could be varied by adjusting the stiffness level of the device.
The results presented here demonstrate the potential design freedom made available by AM, and suggest that it may allow novel personalised orthotic devices to be produced which are beyond the current state of the art.