Is computer-assisted total knee replacement for beginners or experts? Prospective study among three groups of patients treated by surgeons with different levels of experience.

Research paper by Norberto N Confalonieri, Cesare C Chemello, Pietro P Cerveri, Alfonso A Manzotti

Indexed on: 19 Jul '12Published on: 19 Jul '12Published in: Journal of Orthopaedics and Traumatology


Computer-assisted total knee replacement (TKR) has been shown to improve radiographic alignment and therefore the clinical outcome. Outliers with greater than 3° of varus or valgus malalignment in TKR can suffer higher failure rates. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of experience with both computer navigation and knee replacement surgery on the frequency of errors in intraoperative bone cuts and implant alignment, as well as the actual learning curve.Three homogeneous groups who underwent computer-assisted TKR were included in the study: group A [surgery performed by a surgeon experienced in both TKR and computer-assisted surgery (CAS)], B [surgery performed by a surgeon experienced in TKR but not CAS], and C [surgery performed by a general orthopedic surgeon]. In other words, all of the surgeons had different levels of experience in TKR and CAS, and each group was treated by only one of the surgeons. Cutting errors, number of re-cuts, complications, and mean surgical times were recorded. Frontal femoral component angle, frontal tibial component angle, hip-knee-ankle angle, and component slopes were evaluated.The number of cutting errors varied significantly: the lowest number was recorded for TKR performed by the surgeon with experience in CAS. Superior results were achieved in relation to final mechanical axis alignment by the surgeon experienced in CAS compared to the other surgeons. However, the total number of outliers showed no statistically significant difference among the three surgeons. After 11 cases, there were no differences in the number of re-cuts between groups A and C, and after 9 cases there were no differences in surgical time between groups A and B.A beginner can reproduce the results of an expert TKR surgeon by means of navigation (i.e., CAS) after a learning curve of 16 cases; this represents the break-even point after which no statistically significant difference is observed between the expert surgeon and the beginner utilizing CAS.