Mistake-proof hip replacements

January 7, 2011 3:05:57 PM PST
Two hundred thousand people will have a hip replacement surgery this year. Even more will have one or two knees replaced. Believe it or not until now, getting the right fit was just an educated guessing game for surgeons. Now, there's a new way to get new hips and knees that fit just right.

It's been a painful trek for Chuck Murray. Last year he started feeling pain in his hip that just seemed to get worse and worse.

"You never realize what pain is like until you have it," Chuck Murray, hip replacement patient, said.

But traditional hip replacement surgery is risky.

Surgeons pound and drill just by sight and feel, getting rid or reaming the arthritic bone and replacing it with new parts.

"Sometimes we can get off one way or another," Lawrence D. Dorr, M.D., Medical Director at The Dorr Arthritis Institute in Los Angeles, explained.

A few millimeters off means pain for the patient. A recent study out of Boston showed the cup was in the wrong place 35 percent of the time. Doctor Dorr, at Good Samaritan Hospital, is one of a handful of surgeons using a robotic arm to find the perfect fit.

"With the robot we know exactly how deep we need to go," Dr. Dorr added.

Dorr pinpoints a precise plan for Murray before surgery. Surgeons need to keep the numbers to the right green. If they turn red, the surgeon is going off track and the drill shuts down. Basically mistake-proofing the surgeon.

"This is the single most important advance in the technique of doing the operation since Charnley first did it in 1959. This changes the game for the technique," Dr. Dorr said.

The precise movement of the robotic arm allows for a better fit for the implants, plus a less painful and quicker recovery.

"I was on crutches for two days, went to a came on the third day," Murray concluded. Now Murray is back out walking one week after his surgery.

The robotic arm is also used for partial knee replacement surgeries -- next will be total knee replacement.