HIGH TECH SPIN OFF OF SPACE TECHNOLOGY
of the arthroscope has revolutionized surgical treatment of
the knee. With the help of this high tech device, today's
joint problems may be diagnosed and treated without the discomfort
of large incisions or the inconvenience of extended hospital
stays. And it was NASA that made it all possible.
An arthroscope is an optical instrument connected to a light
source. At the end of the instrument is a long metal tube,
which is inserted through a tiny incision into the knee, providing
the surgeon with a good view of the knee structures. The optics
magnify these structures two to two and a half times, creating
an image that is conveyed to a TV screen which displays an
even larger picture of the knee for the surgeon to observe.
This procedure usually calls for a general or spinal anesthetic
to relax the muscles and ligaments of the knee, allowing the
joint surfaces to fall apart and creating space into which
the arthroscope and the tiny arthroscopic instruments can
The exact procedure, of course, depends on what damage has
occurred to the structures inside the knee, so diagnosis is
important. On the various procedures treatable by arthroscopy,
the repair of torn knee cartilage is the most common. But
numerous other conditions are easily corrected with this state-of-the-art
technology. Knee cap problems, loose pieces of detached joint
surface (loose bodies), knee ligament repairs and reconstructions,
and even some arthritic conditions can be treated with this
remarkable little spin off of our space program.
So easy is the recovery for the patient, surgery is done on
an outpatient basis in a hospital operating room. Unlike the
old days, when incisions were large and painful, requiring
numerous stitches and a lengthy hospital stay, today's arthroscopy
is finished when each tiny incision is closed with a single
stitch or small band-aid, and the patient encouraged to walk
as soon as he is awake.
It is not at all unusual for patients to return to school
or office the day after surgery and full functional recovery,
including participation in sports, often possible within six
weeks. Of course, rapid recovery depends on the patient's
general health and condition and the extent of diagnostic
and surgical treatment. Even after this Band-aid surgery,
the avoidance of vigorous physical therapy to rehabilitate
the muscle and ligaments about the joint is necessary.
Continuing exercises at home for several months' after surgery
will increase strength and muscle balance. So what's in store
for the future? Today, Scientists are developing robots, which
can perform surgery directed by one surgeon from a Command
Central outside the operating room.
From this vantage point, the surgeon will be able to control
several robots performing different operations in different
rooms simultaneously. Such progress sounds cost efficient,
but it may take some doing to persuade patients to hold still
--- Dr. Edwin J. Taegel. M.D.