Full Circle Orthopedics

Difference Between Partial and Total Knee Replacement

The very first knee replacement surgery took place in 1968, and now, knee replacement has grown to be one of the most commonly performed orthopedic procedures. Even more noteworthy, medical advancements have allowed knee replacement surgery to be one of the most successful surgical procedures across all fields of medicine. In 2017, more than 750,000 knee replacement surgeries took place in the United States alone.

If you have been told you need a knee replacement, you may either be recommended for partial or total knee replacement. What’s the difference between partial knee replacement and total knee replacement? Let’s take a closer look.

Why Knee Replacement May Be a Necessary Procedure

The knee joint bears the brunt of everyday use when you are walking, standing, and moving. Just like most joints, the knee is made up of a series of bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles that allow for mobility.

Unfortunately, because these components can take so much strain, the moving parts can become severely worn or damaged. When this general breakdown occurs, you may face problems with climbing stairs, walking, or even sitting in certain positions. Arthritis can only exacerbate the situation.

As the joint breaks down further, you can have so much trouble getting around that your quality of life is greatly affected, and you may also have a lot of pain even when you are not moving around at all. At this point, knee replacement surgery may be the most effective way to get you back to a normal life where you can move freely without pain.

Total Knee Replacement Explained

A knee replacement, which is medically referred to as knee arthroplasty, is a process that involves resurfacing or adding new surfaces to the bones that meet at the joint. The bones that meet at the knee joint include the thighbone, the shinbone, and the patella. Total knee replacement generally involves a four-step process:

  1. The end surfaces of each of the bones are carefully prepared, which may involve removing damaged cartilage and minuscule layers of bone
  2. Metal implants are positioned over the prepared surfaces of the bone; the implants are either pressed in place or cemented using a medical-grade material
  3. The backside of the patella is trimmed and outfitted with a plastic “button” or cover; patellar resurfacing may not always be necessary
  4. A thin spacer is installed in the knee to offer a smooth surface for the newly installed metal ends

The end result after total knee replacement is a knee that will move smoothly because of the new, smooth and smooth-moving components.

Partial Knee Replacement – The Other Knee Replacement Surgery

Partial knee replacement, medically referred to as unicompartmental knee replacement, involves resurfacing only certain portions of the bones that meet at the knee joint. In some cases, a patient will have more damage to one portion of the knee than others, so a total knee replacement would not be necessary to restore the full function of the knee.

The knee can be separated into three different compartments of the joint: medial (interior), lateral (external), and patellofemoral (between the thighbone and kneecap). During partial knee replacement, the surgeon may only need to install implants in one compartment to resurface the bone. For example, if osteoarthritis has created severe degeneration of the patella, the interior of the patella may only have to be resurfaced.

FAQs About the Difference Between Partial Knee Replacement and Total Knee Replacement

What are the benefits of partial knee replacement over total knee replacement?

If you are a good candidate for a partial knee replacement, you should know the procedure is much less complex than a total knee replacement. The incision will be smaller, so you will likely see a quicker recovery, less discomfort after your procedure, and much less lost blood. In addition, a partial knee replacement tends to feel more like your natural knee once the area has healed.

Should you opt for total replacement even if you don’t necessarily need it?

In rare cases, you may be given the option to choose between partial and total knee replacement. For example, if you have one primary joint compartment affected but other compartments are showing signs of degeneration, you may be told that partial knee replacement would work, but a full replacement may eventually be necessary. In these cases, it is a good idea to examine the pros and cons of each type of surgery. Consider the recovery time involved in each and the likelihood of needing a full replacement later.

What is the recovery time for total versus partial knee replacement?

Recovery with a partial knee replacement can be shorter. You may be able to walk in just three to four weeks and may need to continue physical therapy for up to three or four months. Walking, swimming and even gentle biking can be fine, but activities that involve kneeling, such as gardening, may prolong the recovery processTotal knee replacement recovery can take between four months and one year, and in that time you may need ongoing physical therapy.

Entrust Your Care to Florida Orthopedic Specialists

Whether you have been told you need a partial knee replacement or a full knee replacement, knowing you are in the skilled hands of an orthopedic surgeon in the process is ever-important. At Full Circle Orthopedics, we have surgeons available in Clearwater and Palm Harbor to offer expert care for patients. If you would like to know more about our services or need help obtaining a referral, please reach out to us at Full Circle Orthopedics for help.