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Study: Computer-Assisted Knee Replacement Surgery Benefits Patients Who Refuse to Take Arthritis Sitting Down

(New York, NY. September 23, 2014) Increasing numbers of younger people are opting for knee replacement, unwilling to take their arthritis pain sitting down. In less than a decade, from 1999 to 2008, the number of joint replacements in patients under 65 tripled—from fewer than 80,000 in 1999 to more than 250,000 in 2008.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, who has a busy practice specializing in joint replacement at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City, says the trend of younger patients going for knee replacement has no signs of letting up, and surgical advances such as computer-assisted surgery have made it a viable option for them.

“It’s hard for people who’ve been active most of their lives to give up what they love doing because of arthritis pain,” says Dr. Westrich, director of research, Adult Reconstuction and Joint Replacement at HSS. “With their pain gone and movement restored, knee replacement can really give them a second lease on life. Many people have renewed vitality.”

One patient who had a partial knee replacement in her early 50s periodically sends him photos of herself hiking and even rock climbing. Several years after the procedure, she’s doing great, Dr. Westrich says.

A growing number of people in their 40s and 50s refuse to slow down, despite joints worn out by years of activity, an injury or advancing age. “Many of these patients are those for whom ‘50 is the new 30,› and they refuse to be sedentary,” Dr. Westrich says. “These are generally health-conscious individuals who want to return to activities so they can remain healthy or get back into shape, while living life to the fullest.”

Newer techniques such as minimally invasive knee replacement, partial knee replacement, improved implant designs using innovative plastics and metals to make the implant last longer, and computer-assisted surgery have made knee replacement an attractive option for younger patients, according to Dr. Westrich.

The main concern in younger patients is that the implant will wear out, he notes. Although a knee replacement can last 20 years or even longer, it does not last forever. However, a technology that has been gaining momentum, which entails the use of a computer to assist in surgery, may prolong the life of the artificial joint, according to Dr. Westrich.

The highly advanced, surgeon-controlled MAKO robotic system is enabling an ultra-precise alignment and placement of the implant in patients who are candidates for a partial knee replacement, a less invasive surgery that is possible if the arthritis is limited to just one arthritic area of the knee.

Before surgery, CT scans are taken of each patient›s knee to assist surgeons in pre-planning the procedure. During surgery, a robotic arm uses computer-guided mapping software, similar to GPS, integrated into the surgical instruments. This gives each patient a surgery tailored to his or her individual anatomy.

Three dimensional high-definition visualization and the robotic arm guide the surgeon with visual, tactile, and auditory feedback. The digital tracking system constantly monitors and updates the patient›s anatomy and enables the surgeon to make real-time adjustments to optimize implant positioning and placement and to restore biomechanical alignment and joint motion.

It is believed the computer-assisted surgery will allow the knee replacement to be implanted more accurately and therefore allow the prosthesis to last longer since the implant will experience less wear and friction. Another advantage, according to Dr. Westrich, is that the robot-assisted procedure enables more bone to be preserved, an advantage in the event another knee replacement is needed down the road.

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