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Hnida: How Thomas Davis Will Play Super Sunday With A Broken Arm

By Dr. Dave Hnida

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (CBS4) - The NFL has gone bionic, at least when it comes to a first of its kind 3-D brace to protect a newly fractured forearm. That brace was made for Carolina Panther linebacker Thomas Davis, who fractured his forearm two weeks ago in the NFC title game. It's a space age brace that will allow Davis to play in this Sunday's Super Bowl---unthinkable considering that Davis had surgery the day after the injury.

The fracture is medically a simple one. But for an NFL player, it's anything but simple. Typically it is the type of injury that needs 4-6 weeks in a cast, and no contact.

Custom 3-D forearm brace worn by Thomas Davis (courtesy WhiteClouds Technology)

The ulna is one of two bones that make up the forearm. The other is called the radius.

If you hold your hand palm up, and then run your other hand along the inside bone about three quarters of the way towards the elbow, you're feeling about where Davis broke the ulna. (The radius is the bone that runs up the thumb side of the forearm to the elbow.)

Davis had a plate and 12 screws put in surgically to stabilize the fracture. The bone was broken when another player fell across the forearm with his knee -- essentially like a karate chop.

In the world of orthopedics, we call these "nightstick" fractures since this is where bad guys typically put up a forearm to keep from being struck by an old time police nightstick. The blow cracks the ulna.

Now, if both bones had been broken, or the radius alone had been fractured, Davis would be unable to play, surgery or no surgery.

But the plate and screws will stabilize the isolated fracture. And that's where the new brace comes in.

A company called whiteclouds made a custom 3-D imprint of Davis' arm using multiple images and angles from a CAT scan.

They then took 8 hours to build "print out" or manufacture the brace out of a plastic polymer and synthetic rubber. The plastic polymer (Poron-D) covers the fracture site, and the synthetic rubber acts as a shock absorber. Since the fracture is in the upper part of the bone, doctors do not need to immobilize the elbow or wrist with this new technology -- they need to simply protect the fracture and surgical site.

A few years ago—this technology wasn't available for this type of injury or the rigors of NFL play.

No question, this brace isn't a 100 percent fix. This fracture is still going to hurt. But the only thing that should limit Davis is his ability to tolerate the pain. And considering it is Super Sunday, I'd bet he's willing to tolerate a lot.

Good luck to Davis, and both teams.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4's Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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