Orthopedic Innovations of the Next Decade

What To Watch For In Orthopedic Surgery

Ever wonder if a new type of joint replacement implant is coming out? Or perhaps if there will be another option for the treatment of arthritis?  Medical science has come far and is moving fast, but there are always innovations and developments.  Here are some things to look for over the coming decade.

New Joint Replacement Implants

hip replacement implant
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Joint replacements have been effective treatments for hip and knee arthritis for over half a century.  More recent technology has allowed for replacement of shoulders, elbows, fingers, and ankles. 

Designing a joint replacement that will last a long time is a focus of orthopedic engineering.  Design changes and alternative materials have created better, longer-lasting joint implants.  However, caution must be exercised, as sometimes newer isn't better.  While new materials and designs are hoped to be improvements, ultimately not every change is for the better.

Some of the steps to improve joint replacement materials include the recent creation of a U.S. joint replacement registry.  This type of data collection is also being done in other countries, and it can help surgeons and engineers figure out both good and bad aspects of new materials more quickly.  This knowledge can help manufacturers and surgeons ensure that patients are receiving the best materials available for a long-lasting joint replacement.

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Cartilage Replacement

stem cells
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Engineered cartilage is one of the top priorities for research in orthopedics.  From young patients with sports injuries, to older patients with arthritis, loss of joint cartilage is one of the most common causes of joint pain.

There are challenges to developing artificial cartilage, or getting new cartilage to grow.  While researchers have figured out parts of the puzzle, putting everything together to restore normal joint cartilage has proven challenging. 

One common question is if joint replacement should be delayed in hopes of finding a solution for joint damage through research efforts.  In answer to this, the near future shows only very limited applications of cartilage replacement in joints.  Hopefully in the long term, joint cartilage regrowth can become a reality.

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Robotic Surgery

robot surgery
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The use of robotics in joint surgery has gained interest recently.  Now commonly used for urologic and gynecologic surgery, robots may become more commonly used in orthopedic procedures.

Specifically, hip and knee replacements have used robotic applications to help improve the precision of placement of the prosthetic joint implants.  Robots are thought to help ensure the reliability that each and every procedure will be done as accurately as possible.  The current robotics used in orthopedics are similar to computer navigation that was popular this past decade, and future applications will undoubtedly continue to be developed.

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Less Invasive Surgical Procedures

spine surgery
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Minimally invasive surgery has been a popular development and will continue to be improved.  Minimally invasive can mean many different things.  Some people are interested in small incisions, others in fast recovery, and others in different criteria.  The focus of minimally invasive surgery is less disruption to the patient so that normal activities can be resumed as quickly as possible.  This can also be said as "fix the bad, and leave normal alone."

Some common minimally invasive surgical procedures being used include anterior hip replacement, arthroscopic surgery, and endoscopic carpal tunnel release.

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Future Treatments: A Caution

We all want the best treatment, no matter the condition. While new is always an attempt at improvement, newer is not always better. In fact, often new treatments turn out to be not as good as more traditional treatments. It is always good to be cautious with new treatments, and if possible try to pursue treatment options that also have a good track record of success.

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