Arthritis may not have a cure yet, but new treatment methods are getting better and better at providing long-term relief. For patients suffering from severe knee pain caused by osteoarthritis, robotic knee replacement surgery may be able to offer relief with shorter recovery times and longer-lasting results.
During a traditional knee replacement procedure, damaged tissue in the knee is removed and replaced with an artificial joint. A robotic knee replacement is the same procedure performed with the assistance of a robotic arm.
While it may sound like something from the distant future, robot-assisted surgery techniques have been around for years. Still, confusion surrounding these procedures can put patients on the fence.
To set the record straight, here are 7 things you should know about robotic knee replacement surgery.
1. Who is a candidate for robotic knee replacement?
If you’re a good candidate for traditional knee replacement surgery, you’re a good candidate for robotic knee replacement.
However, your doctor isn’t going to recommend either type of surgery during your first visit. Depending on the severity of your condition, they may recommend less invasive treatment methods first, such as:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Weight loss through diet and exercise
- Cortisone shots
- Physical therapy
- Knee braces
If you aren’t able to get the relief you need from these conservative treatments, knee replacement surgery may be able to help. But because most knee replacements only last between 10 and 20 years, traditional surgery is difficult to recommend for patients under the age of 60.
New procedures like robotic knee replacement are starting to change that. More accurate implant positioning means that younger patients may be able to safely undergo total knee replacement surgery and get back to living an active lifestyle.
That being said, artificial joints don’t last forever. Joint replacement surgery is still a major decision. You’ll need to talk with your doctor to find out if you’re a good candidate.
2. The surgery is not performed by a robot.
One of the most common misconceptions about robotic knee replacement is that the surgery is done 100% robotically.
That’s simply not the case – while the procedure is assisted by a robotic arm, your orthopedic surgeon is still in control. The robotic arm’s only job is to help the surgeon perform with greater precision.
Technology assists the procedure in other ways, too. Before surgery, a CT scan is used to create a 3D model of the patient’s knee. This allows surgeons to more accurately place the implant. During the operation, the robotic arm uses data from the 3D model to create a predefined space for the surgeon to work in, preventing them from accidentally damaging the surrounding tissue.
3. Robot-assisted techniques can potentially reduce recovery time.
Because robot-assisted techniques are still so new, many of the long-term benefits haven’t been properly studied yet. But short-term benefits, like the potential for reduced recovery time, are quickly becoming apparent.
With a traditional total knee replacement, the average patient won’t be able to resume normal activities like driving and going to work until 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Robot-assisted technology could potentially cut this recovery time in half.
Smaller incisions combined with greater surgical precision means that less bone and tissue is disturbed, speeding up the body’s natural healing process.
4. Improved accuracy may result in a more natural feeling after surgery.
Because robotic techniques allow for greater precision, surgeons can customize knee replacements to each patient’s anatomy. For some patients, this leads to a more natural feeling result.
Joint awareness is a common problem for patients post-surgery. Ideally, you should be able to completely forget about your joint replacement as you go about your day to day life. But for many patients, simple tasks like walking down stairs or kneeling can trigger joint awareness in the form of stiffness, numbness, or even pain.
While more information is needed to determine just how effectively robotic surgery can reduce joint awareness, doctors are hopeful that the improved accuracy of the procedure will lead to better long-term results.
5. Experience still matters.
State-of-the-art robotic instruments have the potential to improve outcomes for patients, but that’s not a replacement for good old fashioned experience. You’ll still want to choose an orthopedic surgeon who has completed a high volume of surgeries with good outcomes.
6. There are potential risks.
Robotic knee replacement surgery comes with the same risks as traditional knee surgery. These include, but are not limited to:
- Nerve damage
- Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)
- Allergic reaction to the artificial joint
But because robot-assisted procedures require a smaller incision and can be performed with greater accuracy, doctors are hopeful that these risks can be significantly reduced.
Even with traditional surgery, serious complications are rare, occurring in only about 2% of knee replacement patients. Your doctor will carefully assess your health and discuss all of the potential risks and complications associated with surgery.
7. More long-term data is still needed.
While we have the evidence to prove that robotic surgery is more accurate than traditional surgery, the benefits of this improved accuracy are yet to be fully understood.
Because partial knee replacements have been using robotic technology longer than complete replacements, they have the most evidence to support improved outcomes for patients. More research is needed to determine if robot-assisted technology is as effective for total knee replacement.
Meet Dr. Seth Cooper, Orthopedic Surgery Specialist at Florida Medical Clinic
If you’re one of the millions of Americans suffering from knee arthritis pain, staying up to date on the latest treatment options can help you make informed decisions about your health.
Dr. Seth Cooper is an orthopedic surgeon in Brandon, Florida, who specializes in robotic surgery and sports medicine. Contact Dr. Cooper today to learn more about robotic knee replacement and find out if it’s right for you.