<< Back

Back Pain Relief: New Joint-Fusion Procedure Aided by Robotics

September 15, 2020

“Oh, my aching back!” Who hasn’t uttered these words at one time or another, or maybe a lot?

Back pain can be a broad-brushed complaint for a nagging discomfort. Many common conditions can cause back pain and much of it is misdiagnosed. Although there are several possible sources of back pain, the sacroiliac (SI) joint is often the culprit, accounting for up to 30 percent of chronic low back pain.

The SI joint joins the pelvis and lower spine. There are two joints, one on each side of the lower spine. If nonsurgical approaches prove ineffective, a new joint-fusion procedure using robotics could be the answer.

Dr. Hanbing “Steve” Zhou of Hartford Hospital’s Bone & Joint Institute, recently performed the hospital’s first robotic-assisted SI joint fusion surgery.

Dr. Zhou explains how doctors can pinpoint the SI joint as the root of a problem:

“In order to diagnose the issue, we have to identify the SI joint as the cause. Medicine is injected into the joint. If the pain is relieved with this injection, we can attribute the issue to the SI joint. If the pain returns, surgery may be done to fuse the joint.”

Advanced technology has brought precision to SI joint fusion, which stops the joint from moving, alleviating the source of pain. Multiple X-rays and CT scan imagery allow the doctor to plan the exact location where screws will be implanted. Fibrous scar tissue is removed and replaced with bone graft. Dr. Zhou says the robot enhances the accuracy of pinpointing the exact source of weakness.

“The robot arm docks at the place where the screw will be applied,” he says. “The robot allows me to put the screw exactly where I want it, avoiding nerves and vital structures.”

The procedure, which takes about an hour, leaves the patient with a scar about an inch long. Most patients are home the same day as surgery. And for Dr. Zhou and patients, it’s a win-win.

“Not all SI joints are the same,” he says, “and the robot makes the operation a lot less stressful for the surgeon and safer for the patient.”

For more information about services at the Bone & Joint Institute, click here.