Technological Advances in Sports Medicine Knee and Shoulder Surgery

by Keith W. Lawhorn, M.D.

Technological Advances in Sports Medicine Knee and Shoulder Surgery

While many people think of sports medicine as taking care of athletes, it’s really focused on injuries that happen to the soft tissues, like muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage, that work together with your bones to make your musculoskeletal system. Examples of injuries that a sports medicine surgeon would take care of include ACL tears and rotator cuff tears.

With modern technology, many sports medicine procedures are minimally invasive. Small incisions are made, and small instruments and a camera are placed inside. The surgeon sees what they are doing on a screen outside your body. Using smaller incisions and smaller tools to fix your injury means that you can recover faster and with less pain.

However, the small space between parts of your body means there is not much room for the doctor to maneuver the tools around. One way to make it seem like there is more space inside of a joint is to make the tools smaller, so that the tools themselves take up less space within the joint.

I’ve been consulting for over 20 years to help develop new technologies for sports medicine surgeries. While we’ve looked into many different options, one of the current technologies I’m excited about is soft anchors. When a sports medicine surgeon repairs part of your body, they are usually connecting a muscle or tendon back to your bone. To attach tissue to bone, anchors have to be placed into the bone so that sutures can connect the parts together and keep them in position while they heal. Soft anchors are smaller than traditional metal or plastic anchors. Soft anchors go into the bone through a small hole, and then they open up larger so that they cannot come out through the same hole. The smaller holes mean that less of the bone is disturbed during the surgery, leaving more bone surface for the healing to occur onto.

Another technology I’ve been using for many years is adjustable loop fixation. The traditional way to connect two parts of the body together for healing is using sutures and knots. However, the knots can create a pressure point on your tissue, just like when you have a pebble in your shoe. The adjustable loop is a loop with the ends going through a fastener and heading in different directions. The loop can get smaller and the fastener will keep it the size that the surgeon sets. The loop doesn’t have any knots, so there aren’t pressure points to cause irritation.

I worked with a medical device company and with engineers to develop a device to help repair tears in the meniscus, a part of the knee. The device uses both soft anchors and adjustable loop fixation. It’s designed to be used arthroscopically and allows for meniscus repairs with fewer incisions than previous techniques.

Watch the Facebook Live recording to see video of these technologies in action

Frequently asked questions

Does using the soft anchor implants changed the recovery time after surgery?

No, using the soft anchor implants does not change the recovery time after surgery. The recovery time is dictated by the patient’s rate of healing. As surgeons we create the optimal environment for healing but it’s up to the patient’s body to complete the process.

Can this technology be used in revision surgeries?

Yes, this technology can be used in revision surgery, especially ACL surgery and other knee surgeries.

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