Joint replacement with GPS Navigation

For many years, surgeons largely relied on bony landmarks and their intuition to make sure joint implants were placed in the correct position and properly aligned, leading to a straight leg. But not every person’s body is the same, so even an experienced surgeon could miss the mark by just a little. Being even slightly out of position can lead to an implant wearing down unevenly, requiring a new one years before expected.

With people living longer and more people having joint replacement surgery at a younger age, it’s more important than ever to do what we can to extend the life of these implants and reduce the number of future procedures a person may need.

Thankfully, many surgical teams, including ours, now have surgical navigation systems that help position and align new joints with a degree of accuracy we can’t get by eyeballing it.

‘GPS’ for knee and hip replacement

In traditional joint replacement surgeries such as knee replacement, we would use simple tools such as alignment jigs and rods inserted along the thigh bone (femur) to help us see and feel when the knee was properly positioned and aligned.

A surgical navigation system is similar to a GPS system in a car. We input where in the limb we want to go, and the system shows us, in real time, the location and movement of our instruments. We can clearly see and test position, alignment and ligament tension every step of the way.

There are two types of navigation systems:

  • Computer-assisted navigation systems provide information about our surgical tools and the implant in relation to the target position.
  • Robot-assisted navigation takes this one step further, using robotic arms to align cutting guides and increase the precision of bone cuts. This doesn’t mean the robot does the procedure; it just refines our surgical execution. The surgeon still controls every step. This technology is still emerging and fairly expensive, so it’s not as common as computer-assisted navigation.

Benefits of using navigation during joint replacement surgery:

Every person’s body is a little different, which can make getting an implant into the correct position tricky. We can’t always rely on bony landmarks and a patient’s anatomy. For example, if you have hip arthritis in addition to a spine disease, you may hold your pelvis in an odd way. Without a navigation system, we may place the implant slightly off of where it should go because of how you’ve held yourself for years.

Navigation systems give us an extra set of eyes, along with a certain amount of confidence and predictability. Some benefits include:

  • Providing the surgeon with real-time information and the ability to correct potential errors during surgery
  • Improving overall function of the new joint, including greater stability and range of motion
  • Potentially allowing the use of less-invasive surgical techniques because the system gives us improved visualization of the field without large incisions

Increasing the life of the implant and reducing the need to replace the implant, known as revision surgery

Revision surgery often is more complex than the original knee replacement or hip replacement surgery. The surgeon may need to remove some of the bone because the implant may have grown into it. This would require a bone graft, or transplanting a piece of bone from either another part of the body or from a donor to replace the removed bone along with the implant.