September 23, 2021 by John Fernandez and Bethany Rundell
3D Printing Technology Revolutionizes Foot and Ankle Surgery
Total ankle replacement surgery using innovative 3D printing technology is proving to be a game changer for patients with advanced ankle osteoarthritis. Performed by Cary Chapman, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, the cutting-edge surgery is an alternative to ankle fusion, which eliminates motion in the joint. And in rare cases of bone death in the ankle joint, this surgery can spare a patient from life-changing amputation.
“Total ankle replacement using 3D technology is producing excellent patient outcomes,” said Dr. Chapman, who was the first surgeon in New York State to successfully perform this procedure while on faculty at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital. “Unlike the standard approaches long considered the best treatment options, replacement surgery can eliminate a patient’s pain, restore full range of motion in the joint and improve quality of life.”
Ankle arthritis most commonly develops from a previous injury or years of exercise, such as running, that can wear down the joint and eventually cause pain and immobility. In rare cases, a traumatic fracture or a disease can further reduce blood flow to the lower ankle joint, causing the bone to die.
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Patient-Specific Talus Spacer is the 3D printed implant used to replace the diseased talus — the bone in the lower ankle joint that connects the leg and foot. The talus spacer is custom made for each patient using computed tomography (CT) imaging of the patient’s healthy ankle, which is then reversed and used as a plan for printing the new joint in three different sizes to determine the best fit for the final product. Once Dr. Chapman determines the best size for the patient, the replacement joint is 3D printed out of metal, such as titanium. The patient’s diseased talus bone is removed and replaced with the custom implant during surgery.
Orthopedic surgeons have used 3D printing technology in collaboration with surgical procedures for nearly a decade. Other 3D applications in foot and ankle surgery include the use of lattice structures that support bony in-growth for the treatment of hammertoes, bunions, flat foot, fallen arches and more.
“3D printed patient-specific implants will allow for the treatment of difficult orthopedic problems with previously limited options,” said Dr. Chapman. “There are limitless possibilities to what can be made using this technology, which is reshaping the field of orthopedics and improving the overall quality of care surgeons can provide their patients.”