Robotic Spine Surgery: What it is and How it Works.

Robotic Spine Surgery: What it is and How it Works.

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A man holds a boy on his back and the boy has his arms outstretched as if playing airplane. They are outside in a park-like setting.

The use of robotic technology in medicine sounds futuristic, but at MedStar Health, it’s quickly becoming a common practice. In fact, we’re leading the way with robotic-assisted surgery that results in better clinical outcomes for our patients. It’s a minimally invasive option that can be used for a wide range of orthopedic procedures, including treating complex conditions affecting the spine. 


What is robotic spine surgery?

When you hear “robotics,” you might think of a self-driving car or something from the old school show, The Jetsons. But robotic spine surgery isn’t an autonomous technology that performs surgery on its own. 

Rather, it’s the use of computer-assisted technology that helps surgeons more accurately visualize and navigate surgery on the spine, much like a GPS. During computer-assisted robotic surgery, a skilled surgeon controls the operation the entire time. A key element of this innovative technology is the ability to visualize the operating field in 3-D with advanced imaging both before surgery and during the procedure.

Robotic #SpineSurgery uses advanced technology to help surgeons visualize and navigate surgery with greater precision, much like a GPS helps you navigate the road. On the #MedStarHealthBlog, spine specialist Dr. Paul McAfee explains how:
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How it works.

Before surgery, 3-D imaging helps your surgeon plan the appropriate size and placement of screws and any implants based on your unique anatomy. Then, the navigation system will help create a pathway to placing those screws with the most precise trajectory possible. This allows experienced orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons to perform minimally invasive procedures on the spine with greater precision and accuracy than traditional open surgery. 


What are the benefits of robotic spine surgery over conventional surgery?

During open surgery, surgeons have to cut through back muscles to access the spine. However, in minimally invasive spine surgery, surgeons can separate the muscles instead. As a result, there is less damage to nearby tissue, which means patients may heal faster.

In addition, patients benefit from smaller incisions. For example, some traditional open spine surgeries require surgeons to make eight-inch incisions on both sides of the back to place screws into the pelvis, which helps stabilize the spine. With
robotic technology, these incisions only need to be two inches long and the placement of screws is faster. 

Robotic spine surgery offers numerous other advantages, including:

  • Improved accuracy in placement of screws and implants
  • Lower rates of infection
  • Shorter procedure length 

Because incisions are smaller and surgery is more precise than traditional spine surgery, many patients experience shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries, smaller scars, and better overall long-term outcomes. 


What kind of spine conditions can be treated with robotic-assisted surgery?

Every patient requires a personalized approach, which is why it’s important to see someone experienced in diagnosing and treating spine conditions. Sometimes, conservative treatment options may help relieve pain or treat spinal disorders. In other cases, surgery may be your best option, including a minimally invasive robotic procedure.

Our surgeons are skilled at using robotic technology to treat the complete scope of spine disorders and conditions, including:

  • Degenerative spine disease
  • Spine deformities in adults and children (e.g., scoliosis)
  • Spinal fractures
  • Traumatic spine injuries
  • And more

Many of our patients are adolescents with scoliosis, which occurs when the spine rotates and curves sideways. Scoliosis is common during growth spurts. But in severe cases, patients may experience disabling pain, difficulty breathing, and neurological problems. As a result, some individuals benefit from robotic-assisted spinal fusion. Spine surgery is major surgery, but with the help of advanced technology, many adolescents can get back to their high school sports and hobbies within six weeks.


Watch our Facebook Live interview with Dr. McAfee to learn more about robotic spine surgery:



What should I look for when choosing a robotic spine surgeon?

If you need spine surgery, there are a few things you should consider when selecting a surgeon. 

First, consider asking, “Are you fellowship-trained?” A fellowship-trained surgeon has completed additional rigorous medical training to become a specialist. At MedStar Health, our team includes board-certified orthopedic surgeons with fellowship training in spine surgery, which means we have extensive experience in exclusively treating patients with spine conditions.

In addition, you should ask if they have experience in performing spine surgery with robotic assistance. Because it’s a minimally invasive procedure, you can expect to heal more quickly and safely than with open surgery. But not every spine surgeon is qualified to perform robotic surgery. We recommend selecting a surgeon who has performed at least 100 procedures using robotic technology. It’s also useful to see examples in before and after photos of previous spine conditions they’ve operated on.

You may also want to ask your surgeon about the type of technology they use and how much experience they have with that particular system. There are slight differences in the way some systems interface with imaging technologies, and there are advantages to using a robotic spine surgery system like ours, which streamlines the process. 

Unmatched experience using the latest technology.

At MedStar Orthopaedic Institute in Baltimore, our spine team includes both fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons who work together to meet the needs of our patients. Because we were one of the first to use the ExcelsiusGPS™ spinal surgery system, we have unparalleled experience using this type of robotic-assisted technology.

Additionally, our surgeons have decades of combined experience. This expertise, in combination with the most advanced robotic technology available, has led to a track record of exceptional patient outcomes. We continue leading the way for the latest advances in robotic surgery so we can help our patients return to their full life without pain or limitations.

If back pain interferes with your quality of life, we can help.

Talk to a MedStar Health spine specialist today.

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