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New Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedure for Arthritis may Delay Knee Replacement Surgery

  [ 39 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 24, 2002

A promising new treatment for people suffering from early-stage osteoarthritis of the knee is now available in the United States. The UniSpacer™ Knee System, manufactured by Sulzer Orthopedics Inc., is a unique treatment for those finding themselves slowed down by arthritis.

The UniSpacer is a small, minimally invasive device made of cobalt chrome that fits between the natural bone structures of the knee and stays in place without bone cement or screws. It is geometrically designed to center itself and follow the normal motion of each individual’s knee. It allows the surgeon to preserve the patient’s bone by replacing only the damaged cartilage and addressing alignment. Because the UniSpacer does not require fixation or bone cuts, it does not compromise future conversion to total knee replacement.

“This is an exciting time in the area of joint restoration,” said Richard Hallock, M.D., design surgeon of the UniSpacer. “With this new procedure, we may be able to extend a patient’s active lifestyle by delaying traditional knee replacement and retaining the natural anatomy.”

Traditionally, the primary long-term solution for patients with severe knee pain was knee replacement surgery, in which the surgeon replaces the damaged knee with an artificial implant. Surgeons are generally reluctant to perform replacement surgery on younger, more active patients because of the irreversible removal of bone required. Until now, the most prevalent options for delaying partial or total knee replacement were short-term arthroscopic procedures or dependence on pain medications.

The procedure requires only minimal surgical intervention and is performed under general or regional anesthesia and generally takes about one hour. Most patients are able to return to normal activities within a few months.

“As an alternative treatment of early arthritis of the knee, the UniSpacer opens a whole new horizon,” said Marc Hungerford, M.D., acting chief for the Division of Arthritis Surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, Md. “Until we get to the point where we can actually restore articular cartilage, it’s good to have different treatment options that can be matched more specifically to the individual patient.”

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