Fifteen-year-old Tressa Scott hasn't been able to stand up straight for more than a year - until now. The teenager grew an inch-and-a-half and gained a dramatically straighter spine after undergoing a complex spinal surgery using a new type of surgical robot at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano.

The SpineAssist surgical robot – one of three in the United States and the only one in Texas – is the only surgical robot designed specifically to operate on the spine. Accurate to less than half a millimeter, it enables surgeons to plan the optimal surgery ahead of time using a computed tomography-based 3D simulation of the patient's spine.

“Like a pilot in a flight simulator, I can map out the patient's spinal anatomy and perform the entire procedure before the patient even arrives for surgery,” said Dr. Isador Lieberman, a fellowship-trained orthopedic and spinal surgeon on the medical staff at the Texas Back Institute and Texas Health Plano.

SpineAssist technology can be used in biopsies, to treat thoracic-lumbar fusion and vertebral compression fractures, and to correct scoliosis. Before her surgery, Tressa had a 60-degree curve in her lower back and a 35-degree curve in her upper back. Now, the curves are balanced at just over 12 degrees each.

“It's remarkable how much difference there is just a day after surgery,” said Tressa's mother. “Her back is so nice and flush.”

Scott said she first noticed that her daughter's scoliosis had worsened last summer after Tressa hit a growth spurt. “She was standing up in the kitchen and I said, ‘Tress, why can't you stand up straight?’ And she said, ‘I am standing up straight,’” she said. “I went over to her, and even though her legs were straight, her shoulders were off and her shoulder blade was protruding. It didn't look right.”

In addition to increasing precision, SpineAssist reduces the amount of radiation exposure during surgery. For patients, it means less likelihood of infection, less pain after surgery, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery. The technology has been used in just over 1,000 cases worldwide with no instances of nerve damage as a result of surgery.

Back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans ages 19-45, affecting 80 percent of Americans at some point during their lifetime. It is the second most common reason that people miss work. SpineAssist technology has two key components:

  • A workstation that enables surgeons to pre-plan procedures in 3D based on the patient's individual anatomy, creating a surgical blueprint, and a robotic arm that guides the surgeon during the procedure using the preoperative plan.
  • During surgery, the robot's extension arm guides the surgeon to the pre-planned location with utmost accuracy, allowing the surgeon to operate through small incisions in the skin and underlying muscles in order to reach the exact pre-planned location on the spine.

For more information on SpineAssist, click here.