The Olympic Games represent years of hard work and physical endurance for athletes. This is no different for the Paralympic Games, a worldwide sporting competition – held immediately after the Olympics and using the same venues – that offers opportunities for athletes with a range of physical challenges. In the 2016 Paralympic Games, Stratasys was honored to help a wheelchair fencer overcome a design challenge in her quest for a medal.
Polina Rožkova with her sport-enhancing 3D printed back brace, produced using Stratasys’ flexible, lightweight Nylon 12 material
Latvian wheelchair fencer Polina Rožkova wore a customized 3D printed back brace during her training for and performances at the 2016 Paralympics. The athlete, eighth in the Épée Women Category A world ranking, turned to 3D printing in order to overcome the current limitations of conventional back braces. With this custom-fit and comfortable brace, she was able to better train to compete at the highest level in Rio.
During training, Rožkova struggled with large and cumbersome back supports that were not only uncomfortable but limited her movement. Following consultations with various orthopedic specialists, Rožkova approached Stratasys’ Latvian reseller, Baltic3D, to explore whether 3D printing could offer a solution to her problem. Using a 3D scan of her lower back, the team digitally designed a custom-fitted back brace. The brace specifically focused on supporting the exact geometry of her middle spine, an area often strained when fencing in traditional back braces due to high-impact sudden movements. With this in mind, the team adopted Stratasys’ Nylon 12 3D printing material to 3D print Rožkova a flexible, lightweight back brace, which has been integral to her Paralympic training.
Jānis Jātnieks of Baltic3D, leader of the 3D printed back brace project, explained: “The conventional back brace Polina was using was huge and did not fit her shape at all, causing her discomfort and bruises in everyday life. It was limiting her movement in fencing and hindering her performance, which is not great when you’re preparing for the Paralympics. Fortunately, we were able to help! 3D printing gives us the ability to quickly and cost-effectively produce one-off solutions customized to the individual, and having access to Stratasys Nylon material was crucial to giving her the levels of comfort and freedom of movement required to compete with the very best in her field.”
The back brace was 3D printed on a Stratasys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer in a single build, in just a matter of hours. This enabled Rožkova to test various versions of the back support during training. Jātnieks and his team were able to quickly iterate the design to perfectly meet her requirements. The final version 3D printed back brace this week accompanied Rožkova to Rio.
Using a 3D scan of Rožkova’s lower back, Baltic3D, a Stratasys Latvian reseller, designed and 3D printed a back brace customized specifically to her middle spine, overcoming the discomfort and limited movement found in conventional supports
“Throughout my years as a professional wheelchair fencer, I have been looking for an alternative, and most importantly, sports-appropriate lower back brace to allow me to fence and move freely without any restraints or pain,” said Rožkova. “As the sport puts a lot of strain on the back, I also needed a support that could be replaced easily if it broke during training or competition. I’m ecstatic with the result – not only is the 3D printed back brace visually appealing, but it gives me a level of freedom unparalleled to anything I have ever used before. I feel better equipped than ever to realise my goals and be a champion.”
“Polina’s story is one that embodies all the great things about 3D printing and its ability to truly shape lives,” said Andy Middleton, President Stratasys EMEA. “Being able to quickly 3D print low-cost solutions customized specifically to the person takes us away from a world where we settle for small, medium or large, giving consumers more options than ever before. We are extremely proud to be a part of this project and help Polina overcome a design challenge, allowing her to compete at the top.”
To learn more about 3D printing solutions for customized prosthetics, please see our YouTube playlist.