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The Mako robotic-arm surgery system helps orthopedic surgeons at Sutter Surgical North Valley Hospital perform hip and knee replacements. 

A robotic arm is now helping surgeons at Sutter Surgical North Valley Hospital perform hip and knee replacements, and if you are picturing Rosie the robotic maid from the Jetson’s – think again. The Mako robotic-arm assisted surgery system makes a 3D model of the patient’s hip or knee and then that information is relayed to a burr on the tip of the robotic arm. The burr is controlled by the orthopedic surgeon to help them replace the joint with a higher degree of accuracy.

Sutter Medical Foundation Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Harinder Dhanota said he has performed about a dozen knee replacement surgeries using the robotic-arm assistant. He compared a knee replacement with the robotic arm to replacing a car tire.

“It allows me to put in the knee replacement with a lot more precision and balance,” Dhanota said. “Like a well-balanced tire on a car... if you have it well balanced and it’s equally tensioned it should last longer.”

The robotic arm is another tool for surgeons to use to make joint replacement surgeries more precise, because the arm won’t let surgeons operate outside of the boundaries established in the 3D scan. A representative from the robotic technology vendor Stryker said to think of it like a coloring book where you can only color inside the lines.

“The saw blade stays very contained so they aren’t hitting any soft tissue, so there isn’t any minor trauma, so there is less swelling and less pain,” Dhanota said. 

This precision in surgery means that patients have been experiencing faster recovery times and a greater range of motion after surgery, Dhanota said.  

“In general, they are appearing to have better range of motion sooner... less postoperative pain,” Dhanota said.

Dhanota said that low-impact activities like biking, hiking, walking and golfing are all good ways to stay active while minimizing impact on the replaced joint. He said staying active after surgery is encouraged.

Dhanota said candidates for joint replacement surgery can range from a person with pain from a knee injury to someone with chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Anyone receiving orthopedic surgery at Sutter Surgical North will be operated on with the robotic arm assistant, he said, and patients prepare for surgery the same as a traditional operation. He said the surgery takes about one hour to an hour and a half, with a one- to two-night recovery stay in the hospital followed by a few weeks of physical therapy.

The robotic arm started assisting surgeons with hip and knee replacements at Sutter Surgical North Valley earlier this summer, and Dhanota said the operation is covered through insurance so there is no additional cost to the patient for the operation.

For potential patients who hear the words “robot” and “surgery” in the same sentence and fear that the surgeon is sitting back while a robot performs the operation, Dhanota said the robotic arm in no way replaces the surgeon.

“The surgeon is still there performing the surgery,” he said. “…There’s checks and balances and safety checks.”

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