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Is Partial Knee Replacement Right for You?

Written by Knees and Hips on June 21, 2013

The goal of any knee replacement surgery is to relieve pain and restore function. A full knee replacement is an excellent option for osteoarthritis of the knee, but in some cases a total replacement is not necessary or called for. In theses cases a partial knee replacement may be more suitable.

Not all osteoarthritis is the same – there are many parts of the knee, which is the largest joint in the body, and oftentimes the osteoarthritis will have only degraded some of these parts – it is in these instances when unicompartmental, or partial, knee replacement is called for – it has several advantages over full replacement when the osteoarthritis has not damaged all parts of the knee joint.

When seeing your doctor, make sure that you understand the difference between the two types of surgery and that you understand exactly what parts of the knee have been damaged – this will allow you to make a more intelligent health care decision in conjunction with your doctors.

Some of the advantages of a partial knee replacement include faster recovery period, less pain after surgery and less blood loss – because only parts of the joint are replaced, many patients say that it feels more natural than a total replacement – the range of motion is often higher as well, allowing for steeper bending of the limb.

The disadvantages are that the pain relief is less predictable, and the need for future surgery may be necessary if the osteoarthritis continues to attack the so far unaffected portions of the knee.

When the cartilage is destroyed, it is gone for good – this is what causes the pain of the knee; the cartilage system of the knee cushions the contact between the femur, (thighbone), and the tibia (shinbone) – the interior of the knee is also broken down into various components, and the cartilage rests in these compartments. It is this cartilage which is damaged by osteoarthritis. In a partial replacement, only the cartilage in one of the compartments is damaged, and it is in the ‘bad’ compartment that the new joint material is placed.

To make an informed decision there are several factors – medical history, including the specific location of your pain, a thorough physical examination and imaging tests which will show in detail which part of the knee if experiencing bone on bone contact. This is done by two methods, x-ray and in some cases an MRI.

If only part of your knee cartilage has been degraded, you may be better served by a partial knee replacement – work closely with your orthopedist to determine the extent of the damage in order to make the best decision for you.