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Advances In Technology That Are Improving Joint Replacement Surgery

Posted on January 10, 2024 by Elizabeth Swanson

Joint replacement surgery isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to advances in technology, joint replacements are longer lasting and feel more like natural joints than in the past, says Trevor North, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Health. Recovery is also faster—and people can get back to their everyday lives sooner—thanks to prehabilitation and increased intervention after surgery. Basically: if you’ve been wondering whether to go for that joint replacement, now is a better time than ever. 

Here, five innovations that are changing the joint replacement game. 

1. Thanks to durable materials, people can get joint replacements at younger ages.

Historically, it was recommended to wait until age 60+ to get a joint replacement, as the implant otherwise wouldn’t last for the duration of someone’s life. That’s because the plastic liner used in hip replacements wore down after about 10 years, leading to bone loss and soft tissue damage. 

“The construction of plastic liner has improved significantly,” says Dr. North. “Even after 20 years, there is almost no detectable wear."

Even people in their 30s who might need a hip replacement due to trauma from a car accident, for example, can successfully get one. “Instead of pushing these patients off, we’re telling them it’s better to get a hip replacement now so they can stay healthy and fit—so they don’t develop secondary comorbidities while waiting to have surgery years down the line,” says Dr. North. 

Young people can also now get knee replacements, thanks to advances in technology. In the past, a cement adhesive was used to hold together the bone and implant, which wore out overtime. Now, however, an uncemented, non-adhesive porous backing is used. Within about six to ten weeks, someone’s own bone actually grows onto the implant to create a lifelong, biologic bond. 

2. With partial knee surgery, knees feel more natural.

Partial knee replacement surgery is becoming more prevalent. “Replacing half of the knee can be beneficial for people who have sustained damage on just one side of the knee due to a trauma,” says Dr. North. “Since we’re leaving part of the knee intact (plus the ACL, which isn’t kept intact during a total knee replacement) it allows them to have total functionality and gives them the feeling of almost a completely normal knee.” 

3. Robotic technology contributes to more precise outcomes.

Within the past two decades, robotic surgery has become an incredible advancement in surgical medicine. It allows surgeons to control a robotic arm while viewing the surgical site via a high-definition, 3D computer screen. Flexible instruments are attached to the robotic arm, which improve accuracy during surgery. 

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“Robotic technology allows us put the implant exactly where it needs to be, over and over again,” says Dr. North. “If an implant is not in the correct spot, the plastic implant liner can wear down more quickly and surgery may need to be redone. The goal of robotics is to increase the longevity of implants.” 

4. 3D printing allows joint implants to perfectly fit someone’s anatomy.

For those who have complex joint issues, 3D printing allows surgeons to create personalized implants. Here's how it works: Doctors take a CT scan of someone’s joint, which is then 3D printed. “If someone has significant bone loss due to a previous joint replacement, a 3D-printed implant can fill the defect that resulted from bone loss,” says Dr. North. “This can improve the longevity of the implant because it fits so perfectly on their bone. It takes a lot of guesswork out of complicated surgeries.” 

5. Smart sensors allow for increased intervention during recovery.

A smart sensor is a Bluetooth-enabled device that’s joined to a patient’s knee replacement during surgery. Post surgery, it allows surgeons to track their number of steps, range of motion and how frequently they’re getting up and moving around. 

“The sensor also comes with communication tools so we can identify patients who are on track and doing well, along with those who are at risk of not achieving an optimal recovery,” says Dr. North. “This allows for early intervention to get someone back on track for a successful outcome.” 

 Reviewed by Trevor North, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford Medical Center – Lakeside and Henry Ford Medical Center – Grosse Pointe.

Categories : MoveWell

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