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Orthopedic Surgery Technology

Orthopedic Surgery Technology


The body's bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and related tissues work in a delicate and precise balance with each other, so orthopedic surgery must be very accurate to provide effective results. Orthopedic surgery technologies have been evolving for over a century, starting from the first biocompatible metal instruments used to reposition joints and continuing through to modern laser arthroscopic techniques.

The latest advances in digital medical technology have allowed orthopedic surgery to achieve new levels of precision and safety. Sophisticated software, instruments, and imaging technology allow orthopedic surgeons to diagnose, plan, and execute orthopedic surgery for outstanding results. If you need orthopedic surgery, working with a doctor who uses state-of-the-art methods and tools can improve your chances for successful outcomes and make the treatment process simpler. Read on to learn more about how computer-assisted techniques, diagnostic technologies, and laser devices have transformed modern orthopedic surgery.

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Computer-Assisted Surgery Technology

Computer-Assisted Orthopedic Surgery, also commonly called CAOS, involves using 3-D imaging techniques and software to plan and execute procedures. If your surgeon uses CAOS, he or she will place sensors around your affected tissue and watch the images generated on a computer screen to diagnose your condition, design a treatment plan, and perform your surgery. Some computer-assisted surgical technologies also involve navigational equipment that uses GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) systems and robotic surgical tools to execute the physical processes of an orthopedic procedure. CAOS can help you better understand your orthopedic treatment and improve your results.

Types of Computer-Assisted Orthopedic Surgery

There are three main methods of computer imaging used during orthopedic surgery. Each kind provides a different type of digital information to the surgeon. The three primary types of computer-assisted orthopedic surgery are:

  • Volumetric imaging. This type of CAOS involves using CT, MRI, and ultrasonic techniques to create a 3D representation of the affected body part. Orthopedic surgeons use volumetric imaging to assess orthopedic conditions and navigate through complex procedures.
  • Fluoroscopic techniques. A fluoroscope takes continuous x-rays and projects them on a digital screen to create videos of the body's internal structures such as bones, ligaments, organs, and tendons. This allows doctors to watch how patients' internal structures move and adapt over time as they complete certain activities.
  • Kinematic assessment. This computer-assisted technique generates information about bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and other tissues movement, tension, force, and flexibility to orthopedic surgeons.

Orthopedists often use one or more of these techniques to gather information about a patient's body and provide excellent surgical outcomes.

Applications of Computer-Assisted Surgery Technology

Orthopedic surgeons use CAOS technology in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Diagnostic assessment. Since computer-assisted imaging systems allow orthopedists to collect exponentially more information about patients' conditions, these tools are often used as part of the diagnostic process. CAOS tools can also be used during patient education, since doctors can better explain patients' diagnoses with visual aids. A simple x-ray or CT scan can provide static, two-dimensional representations of an affected area, but volumetric, fluoroscopic, and kinematic devices allow surgeons to assess a patient's orthopedic injuries, mobility, and structure in detail. Many orthopedic surgeons utilize CAOS technologies in conjunction with other advanced methods such as arthroscopy.
  • Joint replacement. Orthopedic surgeons most often use computer assistance for joint replacement procedures. In fact, these technologies were in large part developed specifically for joint replacement, since these surgeries are so complex. CAOS technologies allow surgeons to accurately place artificial implants and modify surrounding tissues to hold them appropriately.
  • Spinal surgery. Repairing a patients' vertebrae or surrounding discs requires extreme precision, since even minor issues could lead to major postural abnormalities or cause further orthopedic conditions. Imaging technologies give orthopedic surgeons an up-close view of patients' spines and help navigate instruments to adjust patients' spinal structure.
  • Fracture repair. Some orthopedic surgeons now use CAOS methods to remove fragmented tissue and fill tiny cracks in patients' bones.

Computer-assisted orthopedic surgical techniques continue to advance and become more widely used throughout every aspect of treatment.

Diagnostic Technology

A doctor looking at radiology results

CAOS is just one of many diagnostic technologies orthopedic surgeons employ. Orthopedic conditions can be complex and nuanced, so proper evaluation is vital to effective treatment and successful surgical results. Orthopedic surgeons use the following technologies to diagnose conditions and plan proper treatment strategies:

  • Radiography. Taking x-rays is often the first step of the diagnostic process. Your orthopedic surgeon will have you sit, lie, or stand still while using a special machine to pass x-ray waves through your body. These wavelengths travel differently through different densities, creating a black-and-white image of your body's bones, organs, and tissues. Traditional x-rays must be printed and viewed on a filmstrip, but many orthopedic surgeons have transitioned to digital radiography, which emits up to 90 percent less radiation and can be viewed immediately on a computer screen. Orthopedists typically use radiography to diagnose conditions such as fractures or torn ligaments.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. Orthopedic surgeons use MRI scanners to examine your body for more complex conditions or to verify a prior diagnosis. During an MRI scan, you will lie still on a platform within a special computerized tube. The machine will pass magnetic waves through your body that create radio signals when they move through your hydrogen molecules. The computer then captures these radiofrequencies to produce detailed black-and-white images of your entire body or the treatment area. An MRI scan typically takes between 30 and 90 minutes to complete.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) scans. This technology is a more advanced form of radiography. As with an MRI scan, you will lie still within a special tube, which will spin around you to gather multiple x-rays for a more comprehensive look at your body. Depending on your symptoms, your orthopedic surgeon may need to ingest or have an injection of barium sulfate, a compound that moves through your tissues and creates highlighted areas on radiographic images. Some surgeons use colored dyes for the same effect.
  • Electromyography. This test is used to diagnose muscular conditions. During electromyography, your orthopedic surgeon will insert thin electrode devices around the affected muscles. These needles measure your muscles' motion through their electrical activity, using computerized technology to graph them. Orthopedic surgeons monitor electromyography results to check for irregular movement, tension, and injury. Electromyography can be combined with placement of superficial electrodes on the skin's surface, which measure nerve activity around muscles.
  • Arthrography. Similar to a CT scan, an arteriogram involves taking a series of x-rays after injecting an iodine solution to highlight any tissue irregularities.
  • Arthroscopy. While sometimes used as a surgical treatment in and of itself, arthroscopy can also be used as a diagnostic step. During this procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will make a small incision in your injured tissue and use tiny instruments connected to a computer-controlled camera to capture images and videos within your body.
  • Absorptiometry. This is a technique to measure bone density for diagnosis of conditions such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Absorptiometry is also called a dual-energy x-ray because it involves taking two x-rays simultaneously.
  • Ultrasonography. If your orthopedic surgeon suspects that you may have a condition related to vascular issues or blood flow, he or she may recommend that you have an ultrasound test. During this assessment, your surgeon will place transparent gel over your skin and use a handheld sensor to send and measure sound waves as they move through your body. This creates a black-and-white image of your tissue, allowing your doctor to examine how they move and change over time. A special version of this test called a Doppler ultrasound creates an audio effect based on how your body responds to the sound waves. Ultrasounds typically take about a half an hour to complete.

Your orthopedic surgeon will likely use one or more of these technologies to determine the nature of your injury and design the necessary treatment.

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Laser Technology

A doctor performing laser treatment on a patient's knee

Laser technology has transformed eye and skin care, among numerous other medical disciplines, so orthopedists are now applying it to their surgical care. However, lasers are a controversial topic amongst orthopedic surgeons. Some insist upon their power and precision in delicate procedures while others want more proof of their efficacy and safety. Laser technology for orthopedics is still developing, but some surgeons use these tools for the following procedures:

  • Thermal Capsular Shrinkage. If you suffer from loose or damaged tissue in your shoulder capsule, your orthopedic surgeon may use laser wavelengths to reduce the size of blood vessels and stabilize your joint. This procedure takes about one hour to complete and is typically performed arthroscopically. Thermal Capsular Shrinkage will most likely need to be repeated at regular intervals to remain effective.
  • Arthroscopy. Thin, powerful laser beams may be used in conjunction with tiny endoscopic instruments to modify tissue during arthroscopy. Your orthopedic surgeon may use it to create an incision, ablate (remove) damaged tissue, or shrink inflamed cells.
  • Spine surgery. Lasers technology can be used to easily adjust, repair, or remove spinal tissue, particularly pieces of injured discs to relieve excessive compression. However, this treatment is still being investigated for its safety and success.
  • Tissue repair and regeneration. Applying light to damaged tissue can stimulate cell growth, promoting faster healing and detoxification. For example, MLS® Laser Therapy can repair blood vessels and other tissues after an injury or during recovery from an orthopedic surgery.
  • Pain management. In addition to helping you heal faster from an orthopedic issue, MLS® Laser Therapy can sere as an analgesic. Your orthopedic surgeon can point two precise laser wavelengths at your nerves to weaken the pain signals they send.

While still experimental, laser technology shows promise as a tool for orthopedic therapy and surgery.

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