By Cody Martin, MD
I’ve heard about robotic joint replacement surgery – what is it?
Robotic joint replacement surgery uses a state-of-the-art machine (a robot) to assist the surgeon in precise planning of surgery and specifically, guiding delicate bone cuts and placement of implants. There are different types of robots; some devices resemble an arm or have a handpiece; others provide a stable surface to cut across. All are designed to assist the surgeon while optimizing surgical precision and accuracy when compared with traditional surgeries.
At Northern Arizona Orthopaedics, one of the robotic devices we use is the MAKO robotic arm, which helps patients receive a custom-fit in partial knee or hip replacements. The advanced computer-guided technology helps treat patients suffering from osteoarthritis and joint pain.
Does the robot really perform the surgery?
A common misconception is that the robot performs 100% of the surgery. In reality, the surgeon manually performs and executes each of the skilled techniques involved in the surgery. The difference is that in a robotic-assisted surgery, the robot helps the surgeon have better information and a precise “read” on each patient’s individual joint.The robot has predefined boundaries, just like on a map, that provide more precision. The surgeon can modify the surgical plan (or map) during the surgery, tailored to each patient’s unique anatomy.
Who can receive robotic joint replacement surgery?
Any patient whose quality of life has been impaired due to a painful hip or knee, such as those living with arthritis, should consider talking with an orthopedic surgeon about surgery. After reviewing a patient’s digital images, the surgeon and their patient will discuss the causes of the joint pain, the severity of symptoms, and whether non-operative treatments have provided relief. Joint replacement surgery is an effective treatment option. If the surgeon is trained in robotics, there may be a conversation about robotic-assisted surgery.
How is a robotic surgery different than conventional surgery?
In my experience, there are some different “pre-planning” steps involved in robotic surgeries. This planning is mapped out within the robot’s computer software. When the plan is finished, there is a three-dimensional space to work within, allowing for the most precise navigation and ease when removing bone and cartilage. There is also a clear path in setting and positioning joint implants. For this reason, robotic joint surgeries have a few different steps involved. I have come to appreciate that many patients who opt for this type of surgery tend to feel they recover faster and some complain of less pain. They tell me there is a more natural feeling in their range of motion, which I believe is related to the precision afforded by the robotic-assisted technology.
Should I choose robotic joint replacement surgery instead of conventional surgery?
Many patients opt for robotic-assisted joint surgery after learning of the benefits. When the replacement of the damaged joint is performed with optimized precision because of robotic technology, many patients tend to have a better experience and overall satisfaction. Early supporting data of these surgeries and their outcomes are promising. Some studies have shown decreased post-operative pain, reduced recovery time, and decreased blood loss for patient’s undergoing robotic joint replacement. Studies also indicate there may be less risk of injury to the surrounding tissues.
Why don’t all surgeons use robotics?
Joint and spine surgeries have a promising future in with computerized navigation and execution using state-of-the-art robotics. Many surgeons, such as those within Northern Arizona Orthopedics, are helping to pave the way for further adoption of these technologies. With the current data being so favorable for robotic-assisted joint replacement, along with an ever-increasing amount of patient outcomes and feedback, I believe we will see such procedures performed with the assistance of robotic technologies more often than without them.
Dr. Cody Martin is a Fellowship Trained orthopedic surgeon providing hip and knee care to patients in the Arthritis and Fracture Care Center at Northern Arizona Orthopaedics. He holds clinic in the Flagstaff and Prescott Valley locations and provides traditional and robotic joint surgeries at facilities in North Phoenix, Flagstaff and Prescott. To request an appointment with Dr. Martin, please visit www.northazortho.com or call 928-226-2900.