Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Robotic Assistance in Orthopedic Surgery


By Alexander Germanis

Science fiction has predicted many advances in technology: nuclear-powered submarines, hand-held computers, and even robotic surgical assistants.

While surgery may not have yet met the levels depicted in Star Wars or Star Trek, some surgical centers and hospitals have made a leap forward in how they perform certain procedures. At Orthopaedic Specialists in the Quad Cities, orthopedic surgeons like Dr. John Hoffman utilize a robotic assistant called the Mako Robotic Arm to perform knee and hip replacements.

With over 15,000 total hip and knee arthroplasties performed in his career, Dr. Hoffman can easily compare the differences between working with the Mako and working without it. In the last two years, he has performed over 1000 of those surgeries with the Mako.

Accuracy in alignment and placement in both procedures are aided considerably by the robotic arm. “I can customize the alignment of the knee to match the normal ligamentous alignment rather than do ligament releases to match a standard one-size-fits-all alignment,” Dr. Hoffman attests. “I believe this allows patients to have a more normal feeling knee because I’m matching their native alignment.”

Hip arthroplasties are likewise more accurate, particularly in acetabular (hip socket) placement and leg length. Improved accuracy is particularly important in such a joint, as poor acetabular placement increases the risk of hip dislocation.

Of course, no one knows the end effects of the Mako-assisted surgery better than a patient like Kim McCubbin. An avid runner, racquetball player, and CrossFit athlete, Kim, now in his early 60s, saw the condition of one of his knees deteriorating. “With each one of these activities, it was getting slowly tougher to get through the pain and get enjoyment at the same time,” he recalls. “It had gotten to the point that I wasn’t able to straighten my leg or bend it full range either.”

When he then twisted his good knee and found himself unable to exercise for several weeks, Kim decided the best time to fix his bad knee was while he still had the muscle strength he would need for a good recovery.

Although said recovery was not an overnight event, Kim was back to running 5Ks five months after surgery. “Fast forward to today, I am playing racquetball three times a week at a level that I haven’t been at for a number of years. I am able to move gracefully in any direction and very quickly,” he shares.

“Obviously Kim has done very, very well,” Dr. Hoffman states, concurrently admitting that his patient has experienced better-than-average results. “But I do see patients behave more normally with the robotic total knee than with the typical standard alignment.”

Although Kim’s experience was a positive one due in no small part to his personal dedication, mental state, and consistent physical therapy, he is very happy with how things turned out and with the entire process overall.

“Dr. Hoffman and staff answered any questions I had before surgery and made me feel comfortable about having it done,” he says. “I would recommend to anyone that has similar knee issues to get a replacement. It’s not fun and it’s a lot of work to get it to work well, but it is definitely worth it.”

Robotic assisted surgical arms like the Mako are expensive, therefore they are currently only available in high-volume medical centers. “Patients, however, do not bear any more cost using the Mako,” Dr. Hoffman points out.

Furthermore, as more surgeons like Dr. Hoffman and his colleagues use technology like the Mako, its prevalence will surely increase. Medical science might still be some years away from what is portrayed in sci-fi movies, but it is well on its way.

Dr. Hoffman concurs: “My partners, Dr. Cagle and Dr. Mendel, and I all feel that new robotic technology is the future in total joint replacement.”

Orthopaedic Specialists have locations at 3385 Dexter Court, Suite 300, in Davenport, Iowa, and at 2653 Lincoln Way, #D, in Clinton, Iowa. If you would like to request an appointment, please call us at (563) 344-9292. And visit us on the web at www.osquadcities.com.