What Are Mini-invasive Orthopedics?

Orthopedic surgeon performing a minimally invasive procedure on a patient's knee using advanced technology at Exer.ai.
Mini-invasive orthopedic surgery has become a popular technique with demonstrated benefits for both patient and provider.

Minimally invasive surgery has proven to be a lucrative surgical technique in healthcare — it was valued at $44 billion globally in 2021. It’s also changing the face of orthopedic surgery and how doctors can treat orthopedic issues and injuries, like a torn ACL that once would’ve ended an athlete’s career.

Mini-invasive orthopedics is a growing trend in orthopedic surgery that can improve outcomes for both patients and orthopedic surgeons.

What is minimally invasive surgery in orthopedics?

Mini-invasive orthopedics is any surgical procedure that’s performed through small incisions versus large openings. Minimally invasive techniques are used in most surgical fields, and orthopedics is no exception.

Mini-invasive orthopedic procedures are performed using tools including robotics, endoscopes, arthroscopes, microscopes, and imaging modalities like X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds. In orthopedics, this means the difference between a surgeon exposing an entire bone through a big, open cut and using tiny, precisely targeted incisions to address the affected area. 

Types of mini-invasive orthopedic procedures

Minimally invasive surgery has become increasingly common over the last 20 years and has expanded to be available in most areas of orthopedics.

Some procedures that can be performed using the minimally invasive technique include:

  • Arthroscopy — Arthroscopy used to be a tool for diagnosis but has evolved into a way to treat injuries and disorders. The procedure uses an arthroscope that’s inserted into a joint via a tiny incision. Arthroscopies can be performed for hips, knees, wrists, shoulders, and ACL reconstruction.
  • Osteotomy (realignment) — Osteotomies involve bone cutting to realign or reshape a patient’s bones and can be performed on the elbow, knee, and foot.
  • Total joint replacement — Procedures like total hip replacement and knee and shoulder replacements can be performed using mini-invasive orthopedics. 

Minimally invasive spine surgery — Options for mini-invasive spinal procedures include herniated disc treatment, spinal stenosis treatment, decompression, and fusion.

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Benefits of mini-invasive orthopedics

Technology and preoperative planning have helped mini-invasive orthopedic procedures become a desirable technique for surgeons, improving precision and resulting in less trauma to the patient’s body. 

Reduced trauma to the body

It’s right in the name — mini-invasive orthopedic procedures involve using tiny incisions, so the technique is less invasive, and the result is less traumatic for the patient than opening the whole area up. Smaller incisions also lead to less blood loss compared to open surgery.

Anytime a patient undergoes surgery, their body goes through trauma. That’s because it’s not just the broken bone or disease being treated — the body also has to recover from the muscle, ligament, and tissue damage sustained from the procedure. Minimally invasive surgery involves much less muscle cutting — if any — and less trauma to the surrounding soft tissue, so the patient’s body doesn’t have to work as hard to heal.

Faster recovery and less post-op pain

Minimally invasive orthopedic procedures like arthroscopies are linked to faster healing and shorter patient recovery periods. As a result, patients can begin their rehabilitation sooner and return to their normal lives and activities faster than with traditional surgery.

Additionally, mini-invasive orthopedics results in less pain and fewer complications post-surgery. Arthroscopies, for example, prevent joints from being exposed for an extended period and lessen the recovery time necessary compared to open surgery.

When compared with mini-invasive procedures, traditional surgery also increases pain and the risk of complications, including postoperative infections.

Cost savings

The benefits of mini-invasive orthopedic procedures don’t just relate to a patient’s physical health. Some minimally invasive surgeries have been proven to result in socioeconomic benefits, as well.

For example, almost all arthroscopies require no hospitalization. Instead, they can be performed in an outpatient setting, reducing costs by not requiring a hospital stay and using fewer resources in the process. Additionally, arthroscopies can be performed using various anesthesia options, including local, which can be less expensive than general anesthesia.

Challenges to overcome in mini-invasive orthopedics

Even though minimally invasive surgery has had favorable outcomes for patients and doctors, the technique still has challenges that need addressing.

Expensive equipment and start-up costs

Mini-invasive surgery has high start-up costs that have to be considered before a procedure is even performed. Minimally invasive procedures involve the use of high-end, specialized equipment (including robotics), which is more expensive than what’s used in traditional surgery. 

However, this is only sometimes the case. Cost savings brought about by mini-invasive surgery can help offset the start-up costs in the long term. It’s up to the surgeon (or the hospital) to decide whether the return on investment will be worth the initial costs required to implement the technique.

More training required

Because minimally invasive surgery is a relatively new approach, it isn’t part of orthopedic surgeons’ traditional training. Practitioners who wish to learn need to undertake additional courses in order to gain the necessary experience.

Minimally invasive procedures are completed using small incisions. Learning and demonstrating the ability to perform the surgery within the small opening takes time. The learning curve requires an investment from orthopedic surgeons that some may be unable to make, whether it’s due to a lack of financial resources or time. 

Lack of long-term studies

Unlike traditional, open surgeries, there isn’t a lot of long-term research or trial-based conclusions about minimally invasive surgery.

As time progresses, if mini-invasive orthopedic surgery continues to be a popular and highly requested option for patients, and if it maintains the positive outcomes that have been recorded so far, this could change. Having large, randomized, double-blind clinical trials in the future will back the validity of minimally invasive orthopedic procedures.

Further improve orthopedic patients’ recovery period

Minimally invasive orthopedic surgery requires recovery time, even if the healing period is shorter than traditional open surgery.

You can encourage your patients to get up and moving as soon as possible after their procedure — so long as they can do it safely. Suggesting patients maintain a nutrient-dense diet after surgery is also a good recovery tactic. You can also monitor patients remotely between appointments to track their progress and address any issues. 

Read our piece for more research-backed information on how to help patients recover faster from orthopedic surgery.


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