If you ever experienced back pain, had a sports injury, or developed arthritis in your hips or knees, your general doctor might have referred you to a specialist in the musculoskeletal system known as an orthopedic physician, often a surgeon.
It might surprise you to know how many people seek treatment for painful joints, bones, muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) indicates that orthopedic complaints are a significant part of the national healthcare scene:
“Approximately 135 million ambulatory health care visits, more than 3 million hospitalizations, nearly $245 billion dollars in medical costs and 488 million days of restricted work activity each year…musculoskeletal ailments comprise more than 14 percent of the health care dollar.”
Orthopedic surgeons may further specialize themselves for “pediatrics, trauma, reconstructive surgery, oncology (bone tumors) or sports medicine.”
Regardless of their focus, the field of orthopedic surgery is experiencing rapid improvement, as measured by post-surgical patient satisfaction and reported pain reduction. Computer-based technology is responsible for many of the medical gains we can all enjoy today.
Surgery is always the last resort when other means of rehabilitation and pain relief – physical therapy, for example – fail. Computer-assisted surgeries are increasing the durability of joint implants and speeding up the recovery time for less invasive surgeries.
The parts of the body most commonly requiring orthopedic surgery are the joints, shoulder, spine, wrist, and hand. Computer-aided surgeries to correct or replace degenerative parts of the musculoskeletal system include:
Volumetric Imaging produces 3-D (three dimensional) images that have height, depth, and length.
Well known from science fiction portrayals like the Star Trek virtual reality “holodeck,” a volumetric image can be viewed from all angles, and sometimes can be interacted with. Unlike a hologram, which is viewed on a flat, 2-D surface like glass, a volumetric image is truly 3-D and can be projected into the air.
It might interest you to know that researchers at New York University are using a $2.9 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation in September 2016 to build a real virtual reality environment for medical disciplines, like orthopedics:
“The Holodeck Project, part of the university’s NYU-X lab…aims to create a virtual reality room that allows real-time collaboration for teams working on a number of projects.”
One volumetric imaging device being developed uses a combination of infrared light beams and mercury vapors bounced off chemically-coated surfaces to change their wavelengths. Where the two beams of light cross, the mercury vapors glow, making the image visible in the darkness.
A company called PS-Medtech explains that “volumetric data is described by a group of 2D image slices, stacked together to form a volume. These slices are often acquired by scanners, such as CT, MRI or Ultrasound, at regular intervals.”
But another technique, 3D ultrasound, emits sound waves in various angles, which creates a three-dimensional view. But wait, there’s more: “4D volumetric data shows movement using a compilation of 3D images.”
What is exciting about volumetric imaging is that the movement of a pumping heart or other internal organs can be experienced virtually. PS-Medtech “has created 3D workstations and the Vesalius 3D software to analyze and present volumetric 3D and 4D data.”
You can witness first-hand one brand-new commercial application of volumetric data imaging. Touch Surgery lets a surgeon practice in a “virtual” (computer-generated) operating room on a virtual patient before meeting the real patient.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Touch Surgery is a valuable training tool for orthopedic surgeons:
“Users can demonstrate cognitive competencies prior to performing surgical procedures in the operating room. The application is an effective adjunct to traditional learning methods and has potential for curricular implementation.”
The future of orthopedic surgery never looked brighter. Improved patients outcomes are “virtually” guaranteed!