Since the early 1970s, total knee arthroplasties have undergone many changes in both their design and their surgical instrumentation. It soon became apparent that to improve prosthesis durability, it was essential to have instruments which allowed them to be fitted reliably and consistently. Despite increasingly sophisticated surgical techniques, preoperative objectives were only met in 75% of cases, which led to the development, in the early 1990s, in Grenoble (France), of computer-assisted orthopaedic surgery for knee prosthesis implantation. In the early 2000s, many navigation systems emerged, some including pre-operative imagery (“CT-based”), others using intra-operative imagery (“fluoroscopy-based”), and yet others with no imagery at all (“imageless”), which soon became the navigation “gold standard”. They use an optoelectronic tracker, markers which are fixed solidly to the bones and instruments, and a navigation workstation (computer), with a control system (e.g. pedal). Despite numerous studies demonstrating the benefit of computer navigation in meeting preoperative objectives, such systems have not yet achieved the success they warrant, for various reasons we will be covering in this article. If the latest navigation systems prove to be as effective as the older systems, they should give this type of technology a well-deserved boost.
Computer-assisted surgical (CAS) navigation has been developed with the aim of improving the accuracy and precision of total knee arthroplasty (TKA) component positioning and therefore overall limb alignment. The historical goal of knee arthroplasty has been to restore the mechanical alignment of the lower limb by aligning the femoral and tibial components perpendicular to the mechanical axis of the femur and tibia. Despite over four decades of TKA component development and nearly two decades of interest in CAS, the fundamental question remains; does the alignment goal and/or the method of achieving that goal affect the outcome of the TKA in terms of patient reported outcome measures and/or overall survivorship? The quest for reliable and reproducible achievement of the intra-operative alignment goal has been the primary motivator for the introduction, development and refinement of CAS navigation. Numerous proprietary systems now exist and rapid technological advancements in computer processing power are stimulating further development of robotic surgical systems. Three categories of CAS can be defined; image-based large console navigation; imageless large-console navigation and more recently, accelerometer based hand-held navigation systems have been developed.
A review of the current literature demonstrates that there are enough well-designed studies to conclude that both large-console CAS and handheld navigation systems improve the accuracy and precision of component alignment in TKA. However, missing from the evidence base, other than the subgroup analysis provided by the AOANJRR, are any conclusive demonstrations of a clinical superiority in terms of improved patient reported outcome measures and/or decreased cumulative revision rates in the long term. Few authors would argue that accuracy of alignment is a goal to ignore, therefore in the absence of clinical evidence, many of the arguments against the use of large console CAS navigation centre on the prohibitive cost of the systems. The utilization of low-cost, handheld CAS navigation systems may therefore bridge this important gap and over time, further clinical evidence may emerge