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America's aging population has created a steadily increasing demand for knee replacement surgeries. Osteoarthritis is the most common reason knee joints wear out. It's a condition that becomes more prevalent with age. However, Dr. Cedric Ortiguera, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon, says the precision of robotic assistance in surgery is expanding the patient population that can be helped.
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"Due to the durability of implants, knee replacement surgery typically is reserved for patients over 60," Dr. Ortiguera says. “But, as technology has improved, we can make the implants last perhaps the lifetime of a patient, so more patients in their 40s and 50s can have a total knee replacement… and maintain a good, active quality of life, rather than waiting.”
"Maybe a decade ago, we were doing 250,000 knee replacements in the U.S. per year. Now we're up to about 800,000 or 900,000 per year." Dr. Ortiguera says there could be 3 million per year by 2030 and to expect robot-arm-assisted knee replacements to help serve that need, because of several advantages.
"There's potentially less blood loss, less invasive surgery to get into the knee and perhaps a quicker recovery," he says. "But, overall, we feel the best benefit will be the improvement in the alignment and the overall precision of the surgery."
Dr. Ortiguera says observers of the procedure can see the surgeon still controls the instruments, perhaps with even more control, thanks to the robotic technology. "It actually keeps our hand and the device, and the saw we use, in a much safer area. And it prevents us from going outside those boundaries."
Again, he reiterates, more precise placement may allow the devices to last longer, meaning patients could get needed knee replacements younger without fear of wearing out their implants.
Following robotic-arm assisted surgery, Dr. Ortiguera says patients generally stay in the hospital for one to two days, then use a walker or crutches for about a week, and rely on a cane for another three to four weeks of recuperation.