PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Mary Cowles had a traditional knee replacement in 2001. Just a few months ago she had a different kind of implant – a 3D knee.

“Time-wise in the hospital less time, physical therapy was much easier. I got movement much faster. If I didn’t see a scar on it, I would assume it was my normal knee,” Mary says.

Her surgeon in Boston is using 3D implants made by a company called Conformis. They are the first to get FDA approval for making implants with CT scans, special computer software, and a 3D printer.

“I’ve seen more with the Conformis knee that there’s a quicker return to range of motion for most patients. There doesn’t tend to be as much swelling and not as much pain in the hospital because this is matched to their bone,” says Dr. Joseph Czarnecki, an orthopedic surgeon at Excel Orthopedics.

The technology results in a cobalt-chromium knee that is anatomically matched to that patient and only that patient, unlike standard off-the-shelf knees that are then sculpted to fit.

Imperfect sculpting can lead to pain and swelling.

“It brings back your individual knee, the shape of your knee, the curvature of your knee, and as such, should move like a normal knee,” says Dr. Philipp Lang of Conformis.

While it sounds exciting, it hasn’t caught on everywhere, because the extra set of special imaging adds to the cost. Also, there are still unknowns.

“We have short-term studies that have a potentially improved range of motion. But, the big picture in what we are looking for in knees and hips are long-term outcome. Is this going to make a difference in the long-term? And we don’t know yet,” says Dr. Brett Perricelli, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Clair Hospital.

Dr. Perricelli is not jumping on the bandwagon until more patients use the Conformis knee and it proves to be a superior choice.

“I’m not convinced that it’s better. I’m not convinced that it’s worse. But, it is a newer technology. As with every new technology, we have to carefully evaluate it before we use it,” Dr. Perricelli said.

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Dr. Maria Simbra