Importance: Critically ill neonates can be vulnerable to positional deformities and joint contractures. Early splints, along with dynamic exercise, may lead to long-term functional improvement. Making splints to perfectly contour neonates’ small joints and bodies is challenging. An ill-fitted splint can lead to skin ulcers, nerve damage, poor compliance, and discomfort. Three-dimensional (3D) printing has been applied to create customized, cost-effective, and lightweight orthoses that may be promising for neonates.
Objective: To explore the feasibility of scanning, designing, and printing 3D splints for neonates.
Setting: A large neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in a university teaching hospital.
Method: Case series of three neonates in a NICU who had deformities or joint contractures that would benefit from early static splints. We created customized splints for neonates using 3D scanning, digital design software, and 3D printing technology. We monitored the neonates’ comfort and clinical improvement.
Results: One neonate with a congenital neck deformity had a neck splint created from 3D body-scanned images. Another neonate with a hand deformity was measured and had 3D digitally designed hand splints made. The same hand splint design was modified to fit a third neonate’s hand with new measurements. All splints were 3D printed using specialized lightweight materials. The neonates tolerated the splints well.
Conclusions and Relevance: 3D printing technology is feasible for and applicable to NICU neonates. Advancing 3D technology should focus on upgrading scanning quality, improving splint design, and speeding up printing. Further research to evaluate the long-term benefits of early splinting is needed.
What This Article Adds: This is the first published article to discuss the feasibility of using 3D printing technology to create customized splints for fragile neonates. Neonates, especially critically ill ones with congenital defects, may benefit from early splinting to preserve function and development. Neonates are the most challenging patients to make a perfect-fit splint for, and 3D printing may offer a potential solution.