Purpose: While mass-produced anatomical models are commercially available, many models are inflexible and static, and may not meet the needs of health professions students. Advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing have demonstrated tremendous potential for enhancing student learning. This study uses 3D printed cervical spine models to explore whether use of dynamic, flexible models improve student learning in a cohort of physical therapy students. Methods: 3D printed models of the cervical spine and occiput were printed using a fused deposition modeling 3D printer and polylactic acid filament, and augmented with hook and loop fasteners, foam sheets, and cords to simulate structures such as ligaments, intervertebral discs, and the spinal cord. Twenty-one second-year students enrolled in a Doctor of Physical Therapy musculoskeletal course were divided into two groups: one group had access to the augmented 3D printed models (n=11) and the other had access to commercially available models (n=10). A 10-question multiple-choice assessment was given on the cervical spine and its arthrokinematics before and after lectures and manipulation of cervical spine models. Four Likert-scale questions measuring confidence in explaining or performing a particular cervical spine movement and palpating bony landmarks were also queried. Results: There were no significant differences in the post-test scores for the dynamic and static model groups (t=.66, df=19, p=0.52), or in the confidence in explaining cervical spine movements when comparing the type of model used. Conclusions: This study did not replicate others’ findings of the effectiveness of dynamic 3D printed models. Factors may include that the length of time students manipulated models was unknown, that other studies compared 3D printed models and non-3D printed models (cadaveric donors, plastinated models, 2D images), and that 3D printing is not as effective for all anatomical regions. Despite the lack of significant differences, use of dynamic 3D printed models did not hinder learning and may complement other resources available in physical therapy educational settings.

Author Bio(s)

Cassandra I. Ciorciari, DPT, is a graduate of the Marist College Doctor of Physical Therapy Program.

Dallas A. Rynda, DPT, is a graduate of the Marist College Doctor of Physical Therapy Program.

Christina L. Fojas, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Marist College and the Director of the Gross Anatomy Laboratory.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Kristin Mende and Dr. Brian Pecchia for their help in administering the study in their Musculoskeletal Management II course, and Chris Boehmer for his assistance with computer modeling and 3D printing.




Submission Location


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