What are the differences?
When a person opts for a knee replacement, a surgeon removes or resurfaces damaged bone and cartilage and then replaces the knee with prosthetic components. In a total knee replacement, the entire joint is replaced with a prosthetic one. In a partial replacement, only a portion of the knee is replaced. This might be a good option for patients whose disease or deterioration of the knee has not progressed into multiple compartments.
Understanding knee compartments
The knee is made up of 3 compartments: the inside or medial compartment, the outside or lateral compartment, and the patellofemoral compartment or the front of the knee. When a person has osteoarthritis, the cartilage in these compartments slowly deteriorates. In some patients, osteoarthritis only affects one compartment. In these cases, a surgeon may suggest an unicompartmental joint replacement, or just replacing one compartment.
Benefits of partial surgery
Patients who are good candidates for a partial knee replacement may experience a faster recovery and less pain. Because some of the natural bone and ligaments are still in place, the patient’s knee may bend better after a partial knee replacement. Some patients also just appreciate knowing that not the entire knee is prosthetic.
Risks of partial surgery
The biggest drawback of partial knee replacement is the unpredictability of future arthritis. If someone has a partial knee replacement and then develops osteoarthritis in the previously unaffected compartments, the patient may need additional surgery. Many people would rather have a total knee replacement than risk needing further surgery down the road. Total knee replacement surgeries have excellent patient satisfaction scores, and over 90% of knee surgery candidates opt for a full replacement. However, the surgeon can help patients decide which procedure has the most benefits based on individual circumstances.
Who is a good candidate?
Unicompartmental knee replacement candidates must have arthritis that’s limited to one compartment of the knee. If a patient has ligament damage, inflammatory arthritis, or significant stiffness, a total joint replacement may be the better choice.
Don’t put off pain relief
For many patients, total joint replacement surgery brings significant pain relief and improved function. Many people report regret over waiting for surgery, as a joint replacement can give older patients a new lease on life during the golden years. For more information about knee replacement options, speak with an orthopedic surgeon.