Spinal fusion is used to relieve pain and other symptoms for conditions including tumors, fractures, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis and degenerative disc disease. During spinal fusion, vertebrae (the bones of the backbone) are fused together, eliminating motion between the vertebrae. “A key and time-consuming component of correcting deformity is correctly and safely placing the screws in the spine that fuse the vertebrae. This system makes that part of the procedure more efficient and helps with the accurate placement of these screws,” said Dr. Christopher DeWald, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush University Medical Center.
Rush is the first hospital in Chicago to use the robotic platform, which has an imaging component that provides a customized ‘blueprint’ of a patient’s spine along with detailed locations for spinal screws. The robotic platform attaches to the operating room table as well as the patient and includes a robotic arm that helps guide the surgeon as he or she places the screws into the proper locations.
“Because the robotic system makes placing screws more efficient, I am able to focus on different aspects of the procedure, such as deformity correction and decompression of nerves. The entire surgery can be completed in a shorter period of time,” DeWald said.
Another benefit of robotic spinal fusion surgery is it decreases both a patient and surgeon’s exposure to radiation, because the surgeon can depend less on X-ray imaging for guidance during surgery. The technology allows for the images taken during surgery to be matched with a computerized tomography (CT) scan taken prior to the procedure with submillimetric accuracy. The robot is able to match the patient’s position during surgery with the pre-operative CT scan. “The robotic arm moves into position to help me place the screws based on the plan I created before surgery,” DeWald said. “This tool gives me the ability to optimize the size of the screw for each individual patient. An increased level of safety for the patient is always the primary focus and reason for utilizing tools and technology such as the robot.”
DeWald is one the first in his practice and among the first in the country to use the Mazor X stealth edition of the robotic system in spinal surgery. To date, he has performed more than a dozen procedures to correct spinal deformity procedures using this technology. “My partners and I are able to utilize this technology for any procedure requiring screw placement or pre-operative planning for the patient’s sagittal alignment. In addition to deformity correction, we’re able to use the robot for degenerative lumbar fusions and fracture stabilization,” he said.