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How a robotic “assistant” perfects spinal fusions
November 10, 2017

Standing next to the orthopedic surgeon, a robot swings its arm over a patient and pinpoints the exact position to place the needed spinal screws. The robot and surgeon then work together — the surgeon operating the instruments and the robot guiding the direction, depth and angle of the surgeon’s hands.

Combining real-time 3D imaging to enhance navigation and robotic guidance for bone screw placements, the cutting-edge robot guarantees accuracy with every procedure.

St. Mark’s Hospital is the first (and currently the only) community hospital in the world to offer this surgical option to patients who need a spinal fusion. Dr. Kade Huntsman, orthopedic spine surgeon at Salt Lake Orthopaedic Clinic at St. Mark’s, performed the first procedures with the new robotic system during the month of October.

“I want procedures to go perfectly; and though I can make them perfect occasionally, this robotic system helps me to make it perfect every time,” Huntsman said. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. The surgeries I have done with this new technology have been flawless, and the post-operative images are picture-perfect.”

Who can benefit from this new surgical robotic system?

Minimally invasive, robotic-assisted procedures are now an option in Utah for people who need a lumbar, thoracic or cervical spinal fusion. Anyone who has been enduring degenerative disc disease or traumatic spinal injuries might greatly benefit from a new robotic technology that can significantly improve outcomes. It can also help people with spinal instability due to scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, fractures and other conditions.

How it works:

During spinal fusions, surgeons place a minimum of four titanium bone screws for a single level infusion — and they aren’t particularly small. On average, they measure 6.5 millimeters in diameter and 50 millimeters long. That’s a little thinner than an adult male’s pinky and a little longer than one too. Placement of these screws makes a difference in the patient’s recovery and pain levels, so precision is key.

The new robotic system seamlessly integrates X-rays taken throughout the surgery with C/T scans obtained beforehand. This comprehensive, real-time imaging enhances navigation during the spinal procedure and combines with a robotic arm to guide surgeons as they place the bone screws.

The top four ways the new navigating robot improves spinal fusion surgeries:

1. Accuracy. During traditional spinal fusion surgery, a surgeon “free hands” the bone screw placements. Even among the most experienced orthopedic specialists, there is always a slight risk of a screw inadvertently touching a nerve root, which can lead to painful tingling later on. The new robotic system helps surgeons to avoid even slight misplacements. Combined with the specialist’s expertise and skills, this advanced surgical system can ensure more precise placements, reduced complication rates, and less wear and tear on adjacent vertebrae.

2. Less radiation exposure. Spinal fusions typically require repeated X-rays to confirm accurate bone screw placements. The new robotic system provides a single live, 3D image during the procedure. Thus, the patient receives measurably less radiation exposure.

3. Even smaller incisions. This new surgical tool takes minimally invasive spinal fusions to another level. Given its ability to hone in on the exact location and direction for each bone screw, the surgeon only needs to make 1 cm long incisions – just wide enough to fit the screw head.

4. Minimizes risks. Minimally invasive procedures with smaller incision sites typically have lower complication rates, reduced blood loss and decreased infection rates. As a result, patients can also expect shorter hospital stays and optimal recoveries.

Has your physician recommended a spinal fusion to relieve your back or neck pain? To schedule an appointment with a surgeon who is specially trained on robotic surgery, call 866-887-3999.

If you don’t know what’s causing your chronic back or neck pain, your first stop for relief is the MountainStar Comprehensive Spine Centers. Same day appointments are usually available at one of our four locations. Book one online or call 801-263-3870.