Augmented Reality (AR) in Orthopedics: Current Applications and Future Directions

Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2021 Dec;14(6):397-405. doi: 10.1007/s12178-021-09728-1. Epub 2021 Nov 9.


Purpose of review: Imaging technologies (X-ray, CT, MRI, and ultrasound) have revolutionized orthopedic surgery, allowing for the more efficient diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of musculoskeletal aliments. The current review investigates recent literature surrounding the impact of augmented reality (AR) imaging technologies on orthopedic surgery. In particular, it investigates the impact that AR technologies may have on provider cognitive burden, operative times, occupational radiation exposure, and surgical precision and outcomes.

Recent findings: Many AR technologies have been shown to lower provider cognitive burden and reduce operative time and radiation exposure while improving surgical precision in pre-clinical cadaveric and sawbones models. So far, only a few platforms focusing on pedicle screw placement have been approved by the FDA. These technologies have been implemented clinically with mixed results when compared to traditional free-hand approaches. It remains to be seen if current AR technologies can deliver upon their multitude of promises, and the ability to do so seems contingent upon continued technological progress. Additionally, the impact of these platforms will likely be highly conditional on clinical indication and provider type. It remains unclear if AR will be broadly accepted and utilized or if it will be reserved for niche indications where it adds significant value. One thing is clear, orthopedics' high utilization of pre- and intra-operative imaging, combined with the relative ease of tracking rigid structures like bone as compared to soft tissues, has made it the clear beachhead market for AR technologies in medicine.

Keywords: Augmented reality; Extended reality; Imaging; Orthopedics; Surgical navigation.

Publication types

  • Review