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Emerging technologies in orthopaedics: What patients should know

May 4, 2023 | Technology

Technology and medicine have developed alongside each other down the ages as people sought to create tools to manage increasingly complex medical problems. 

The Ancient Egyptians made prosthetic toes out of wood and leather while the Greeks and Romans created surgical tools from bronze. The Modern era saw the development of tools we still rely on today like the microscope, thermometer and stethoscope – invented by a French doctor who needed to check a female patient’s heartbeat but didn’t think it appropriate to lean his ear on her chest. 

Fast-forward to today and we’re still seeing exciting developments in medical technology. Here’s what’s happening in orthopaedics, where emerging technologies are transforming the way we manage musculoskeletal healthcare.  

 

3D printing

3D printing creates an object by adding one layer after another based on a computer design. In orthopaedics, 3D printing can be used to create: 

  • Accurate anatomical models for pre-op planning of complex cases or for teaching purposes
  • Patient-specific instrumentation (surgical tools)
  • Customised ankle or foot orthotics that integrate the unique biomechanical measurements of each patient
  • Customised implants for patients with unusual anatomy or injuries where a standard implant will not suffice. 

In addition, 3D printing can also allow for the pre-bending of plates before surgery so it fits the individual anatomy of a patient – this has shown promise in treating clavicle fractures. 

 

3D bioprinting

Bioprinting is an extension of 3D printing. This is much more complicated and involves growing patient-specific tissue to develop accurate, targeted and completely personalised treatments. Orthopaedic applications include printing bones and cartilage. 

 

Robotics

Robots began assisting with knee surgery in a research capacity back in 2006. They’re now being used more often in clinical orthopaedics to enable surgeons to perform procedures with greater precision and accuracy. 

Robotic-assisted knee replacement involves the use of a robotic arm (controlled by the surgeon) to assist in the planning and placement of the knee replacement components. Robotic systems can provide real-time feedback during surgery, allowing for adjustments to be made as necessary.

 

Augmented reality

Augmented reality superimposes digital images in real time onto real space. It can provide surgeons with a virtual view of the patient’s anatomy during surgery. 

There have been promising results in pre-clinical settings, with AR use demonstrating improved surgical accuracy, reproducibility, and efficiency. Most AR systems are not yet approved for clinical use because the technology is in its infancy and there are significant obstacles to overcome.

 

Wearable technology

Smartwatches or fitness trackers can provide valuable real-time information about your health and fitness. This data can help you and your healthcare team to monitor your progress with recovery and rehabilitation. 

 

How can we help?

As an active researcher, I enjoy contributing to the growing body of evidence about orthopaedic treatments. 

While some healthcare professionals are intimidated by new technologies, I embrace their use once the evidence shows their effectiveness. I use the ROSA and MAKO robotic systems in my knee replacement surgeries. 

Emerging technologies will continue to transform orthopaedics and improve the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Ultimately, that offers benefits for patients. 

If you’ve experienced an injury or live with a degenerative condition that may need surgery, then please get a referral from your GP and contact me for an assessment. I’d love to help you. 

 

Disclaimer

All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Dr Ross Radic can consult with you to determine if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. A second opinion may help you decide on your options.