3D Printing in Surgical Planning 3

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories and videos about one day being able to use 3D printing in order to create human hearts, livers, lungs, livers and other body parts. One day skin and bones may be printed as well.

But, before we get there, we can already use 3D printers for diagnosing illnesses and surgical planning and training. Doctors and surgeons are already using 3D printing to create artificial, detailed models of spines, skulls, hips, hearts, bones, sinus cavities and even brains.

3D Printed Surgical Guides

Now, why is this important? Most doctors and surgeons have to rely on imaging from MRI’s, CT scans, ultrasounds, X-rays and a few other methods in order to make their best educated guesses on medical treatment. Forward-thinking surgeons who have the right 3D technology available to them are starting to use this technology in order to make diagnoses, preplan and practice surgeries before one incision is made.

Imagine being able to hold in your hand a very detailed replica of your patient’s heart, sinus cavity or spine and being able to preplan the surgery accordingly.

Planning Spine Surgery Using 3D Printing

This 9 minute video shows the advantages of using 3D stereolithography in order to create orthopaedic models for surgical planning.


Surgeons are actually operating on the 3D models in order to practical before the real surgical session takes plan. Using the replicas decreases the likelihood of complications and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Another advantage is explaining to the patient and family using a 3D model instead of X-rays (which can be hard to see and confusing).

Here is a 1:37 video explaining how the Mayo Clinic used 3D printing to help a patient who needed a customized surgery with custom-designed hip implants.


This is a 3:17 video (with subtitles) of Swedish surgeons who were planning an operation on a teen’s forearm using CT scans and 3D printer. The surgeons were planning an osteotomy and conducted a CT scan on both the healthy and injured forearm as part of the planning process. Because of this technology the surgeons no longer have to take measurements inside of an open wound.


For those wanting a peak at a replicated 3D heart, doctors at Washington’s Children’s National Medical Center showcase in this 3:35 video how the technology helps in surgical planning. Children with heart defects are now being helped with MRI, computer tomography scanner, ultrasound and 3D printer. Don’t let the narrator George Putic’s accent (I find it endearing myself in a Moose and Squirrel kind of way) dissuade you from watching as this one is worth viewing.


Here’s a 1:13 video of Penn Medicine converting an MRI into a replica of a brain using a Makerbot Replicator 2X. This isn’t one of those Wow videos. However, it does show how brain surgeons one day may make use of 3D printing.


And of course, what would medical training be without consider new doctors who need to practice? This 3:36 video shows the benefits of this kind of training.




Many forward thinking surgeons are starting to state that 3D medical printing should be the standard of care and not the exception to care. What started out as feasible a short time ago is now usable in the many parts of the medical field.


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3 thoughts on “3D Printing in Surgical Planning

  • Mandy

    I think all patients would feel better about any procedure knowing that the surgeon had been able to utilize technology to plan and practice everything in great detail. It’s great that medical professionals can practice in 3D now, rather than just through computer simulations. I would imagine that this technology is really beneficial in medical schools and other training settings as well.

    Do you think there will be a time in the near future when a doctor can show a patient what is happening in his/her body with a 3D printed model?

  • Kevin Post author

    Yes, and it is already happening! Patients and their families oftentimes have a problem viewing x-rays, so some doctors have turned to 3D printing not only for their own practice but to explain the procedure more thoroughly to the patients. Here is a 2:05 video explaining additive printing in preparation for spine surgery:


  • sarahevanston

    Thank you for the links to the videos, they were very interesting and explain in much more detail the how’s and why’s of 3D planning and how it can have a positive effect on surgical procedures.