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Center for Orthopedics

FAQ - Minimally Invasive vs. Minimal Incision Surgery

More than 300,000 joint replacements are performed every year in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. That number is expected to grow to more than 1 million in the next 25 years as the population continues to age.

Joint replacement, for instance, is an effective way to improve quality of life for patients with arthritis, many of whom have been unable to get adequate pain relief from non-surgical treatments.  

A Trend in Joint Replacement Surgery

Over the past decade, there have been great advances in implant design, post-operative pain control,  rehabilitation and improved surgical techniques but the trend that has received the most attention is “minimally invasive” or “minimal incision” joint replacement.

Unfortunately, there has been considerable confusion regarding these procedures and this has led to misinformation. The problems originate with the terminology used to describe these procedures, particularly the phrase “minimally invasive” surgery.

Minimally Invasive

Anyone who has gone through an operation will say that there is nothing “minimal” about surgery but, in terms of joint replacement surgery, the surgical exposure can be less invasive. Minimally invasive techniques are designed to minimize the amount of soft tissue that is injured during the surgery.

However, whether a traditional or minimally invasive technique is used, the bone still needs to be cut and resurfaced. This fact makes joint replacement a major operation. Surgeons who use the true minimally invasive technique must receive extra training and use specialized instruments.

Minimal Incision

Improvements in instrumentation and techniques have allowed surgeons to perform these operations through smaller incisions (minimal incision joint replacement). The smaller incision not only offers a better cosmetic result, it could potentially minimize blood loss and pain, and aid in recovery.

Less invasive procedures are not just about small skin incisions, however, but the entire management of deep tissue. Patients are recovering at a much faster pace than they were years ago.

Which surgery is best for me?

Although in theory a true minimally invasive surgery should offer tremendous benefit to a patient, this claim has yet to be proven. Many of the early studies have actually shown an increased number of complications with minimally invasive techniques. In addition, there is no long term study to show that a joint replacement placed with minimally invasive techniques will last as long as those placed with more traditional techniques, including minimal incision surgery.

To maximize outcomes for their patients, many surgeons have incorporated the minimally invasive trends into their practices, yet modified the techniques to best fit their patients. New methods to spare muscles and minimize soft tissue trauma during surgery are commonly used now during joint replacement.

Not every patient is a candidate for the minimally invasive techniques. Patients who are excessively overweight, have severe arthritis or are undergoing a revision of a previous surgery often need to undergo more traditional techniques. Patients should talk with their surgeon and their primary care physician to choose the best technique.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Which surgical technique will be used?
  • How much improvement can I expect from surgery?
  • Are you board certified? Click here to search for a doctor in our online physician directory.
  • What type of anesthesia will be used?
  • What type of implant will be used?
  • Should I discontinue taking any of my medications and supplements prior to surgery?
  • What are the complications associated with this type of surgery?
  • How long will I be in hospital?
  • How long will I be out of work?
  • When will I be able to resume day-to-day activities?
  • How often will I need to follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon?

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