Ask a Doctor: Orthopaedic Surgery Advancements

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What are some recent advancements in the field of orthopaedic surgery?

Millions of people in our country suffer from disabling joint pain on a daily basis. This often interferes with the ability to work, take care of one’s families, or simply enjoy life.

Orthopaedic surgery is a medical specialty that focuses on the treatment of bone and joint disorders. This field is continually evolving, providing innovative and minimally invasive solutions for the treatment of painful musculoskeletal disorders. There have been numerous recent advances within orthopaedics, which enable us to help our patients by dramatically improving their quality of life.

For example, shoulder injuries used to be treated by open surgical repairs. This involved large incisions and was associated with significant pain and stiffness after surgery. Today, even the most severe shoulder injuries can be repaired with arthroscopic surgery. Using a tiny camera for visualization, the repair is performed through a series of 4-5 mm incisions or “portals”. This avoids the need for large, unsightly incisions and results in less pain after surgery, with the potential for a more rapid recovery.

In the knee, there historically was not a reliable treatment option for patients with cartilage injuries. Patients often had to either modify their activities or simply live with the pain. However, technologic advancements now allow us to replace cartilage with cadaver tissues or even the patient’s own cartilage cells. In some patients, it is now also possible to use synthetic meniscal tissue to replace a damaged meniscus.

In the field of joint replacement, multiple advances have occurred in the past decade. Historically, joint replacement involved large incisions and inpatient hospital stays of 10 days or longer. Currently, joint replacement can be performed through small incisions using muscle sparing approaches. This allows the patient to be walking the day after surgery, and sometimes even discharged from the hospital as early as postop day one! Specially designed implants for the female knee are now also available, which are better suited to the anatomy of females and may improve outcomes.

Joint replacement is not just limited to knees and hips. The FDA has recently approved total ankle replacement surgery. In the past, the only option for patients with ankle arthritis was ankle fusion. However, a few foot and ankle specialists in Wisconsin are now offering ankle replacement for these patients, in order to avoid the morbidity of a fusion procedure. Also recently FDA approved is the artificial disc replacement. This procedure is indicated for patients with degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, and offers an alternative to traditional spine fusion procedures.

Due to the explosion of technology within orthopaedics, the field has become increasingly subspecialized. Orthopaedic subspecialization is typically accomplished through a concept called “fellowship training”. After completing the standard surgical training, an orthopaedic physician can pursue an additional 12 months of training in a subspecialty field, such as arthroscopic surgery, joint replacement, hand, spine, or foot and ankle surgery. This serves to expose the surgeon to a high volume of complex cases within their subspecialty area, enabling them to become more proficient in state-of-the-art surgical techniques. The ultimate goal is to provide patients with the highest level of care possible!

This is just a brief overview of some of the interesting recent advances within the field of orthopaedic surgery. Who knows what the next decade will bring!

Ryan Dopirak, M.D. is a board certified and fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon at Holy Family Memorial’s Lakeshore Orthopaedics. To make an appointment with Dr. Dopirak, call (920) 320-5241.