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Use of robotic-arm enables pinpoint accuracy during spine surgery

Written by

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

A robot arm used during spine surgery on a young woman has transferred her life. 

Graduate student Amanda Murdolo, aged 22, was referred to Darren R Lebl, MD, MBA, a spine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) who practices in both Manhattan and at HSS Long Island in Uniondale. 

Lebl has completed over 100 minimally invasive, robotic-assisted spine operations.

Last April, during the pandemic lockdown, Murdolo started experiencing lower back pain.

By the time she saw a doctor after the lockdown lifted, she could barely walk for ten minutes without having to stop. Sometimes, the pain shot down her leg. “I couldn’t do much physical activity,” she recalled. “Simple tasks like standing and doing dishes became painful. At times it felt like someone was pulling both ends of the nerve in my left leg really tight.”

The robotic system used in Amanda’s surgery was created to correct a spinal condition called spondylolisthesis, which causes one of the lower vertebrae of the spine to slip forward onto the bone directly beneath it. This was putting pressure on a nerve.

Lebl explained that he performed the procedure with assistance from robotic technology in the operating room, which allowed for an ultraprecise surgery.

“Over the past few years, advances in surgical technique and technology have enhanced the accuracy and predictability of spinal surgeries, and patients like Amanda benefit,” said Lebl. “Advances such as computer navigation, 3D imaging and robotic-assisted surgery have been tremendous in terms of allowing us to do less invasive, yet more precise surgeries.”

The use of very small incisions preserves muscles and other structures surrounding the spine, so patients generally experience less pain after surgery, a shorter hospital stay and a quicker return to activities compared to traditional open surgery, he explained.

Murdolo had a spinal fusion in December 2020.

“A vertebra in her lower spine had shifted or ‘slipped’ forward, causing impingement on a nerve root,” said Lebl. “Through a minimally invasive technique, we were able to realign her spine and take the pressure off the nerve to relieve her pain.”

Murdol had her surgery on a Friday and went home on Monday. After about six weeks after the procedure, she is pain-free and goes to physical therapy.

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health.

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Lebl explained that he performed the procedure with assistance from robotic technology in the operating room

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Use of robotic-arm enables pinpoint accuracy during spine surgery image