Researchers have developed a new method to measure the physical strain placed on surgeons while performing minimally invasive surgery. By analyzing surgeons’ motions in the operating room, researchers will gain new insights into proper postures, techniques, and body angles that should influence the development of new ergonomically designed minimally invasive surgical instruments.

The criteria for such evaluations were presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons in San Diego by Donald R. Peterson, University of Connecticut Health Center Biodynamics Laboratory in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“The widespread acceptance of minimally invasive surgical procedures has led to an increase in their popularity and demand,” said Peterson. “To successfully perform laparoscopic surgery, surgeons may have to position their bodies at unnatural angles and perform repetitive actions with their hands, which may cause strain and fatigue. We have now established a method to assess the biomechanical risks that surgeons face when performing minimally invasive surgery. This should provide invaluable information to guide the development and design of new ergonomic surgical tools.”

Peterson showed that devices such as powered surgical stapling instruments by Covidien demonstrate negligible staple firing and blade retraction forces when compared to manual staplers, which may increase instrument stability and decrease surgeon fatigue.

The assessment method involves using an opto-electronic motion capture (OEMC) system to track the surgeon’s movements, technique, and posture. Electrodes are used to record muscle activity and fatigue of the forearm muscles that control hand movements. Additionally, thin-film force sensors are mounted on the surgical devices to measure g

rip force, and a force plate is used to measure the push and pull forces of the surgeon on the devices. “Covidien Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Paul Hermes said that the research finding will enable his company “to gain even deeper insights into the biomechanical risks that surgeons face so we can design even better products in the future.”

Other device companies are likely to find the same to be true. A related article on designing devices for aging nurses and surgeons, “Designing for changing demographics,” can be found in the March issue of Medical Design.