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Partial vs. Total Knee Replacement: Which Might You Need?

Knee replacement surgery (arthroplasty of the knee) has long been considered the most effective option for people with seriously advanced arthritis, or degeneration of the knee joint to the point of bone-on-bone contact. As arthritis progresses, or after severe injury to the knee, cartilage, the cushion-like layer of tissue protecting the surface of bones, wears down (or breaks down) and can result in extreme pain with even the simplest activities.

Knee arthroplasty is a procedure in which the interacting surfaces of bones within the knee joint are replaced with artificial surfaces. Damaged cartilage that is no longer present or healthy enough to do its job is removed, along with a bit of the bone, and specially-made parts are implanted instead, in order to create a smoother and more natural gliding surface. The damaged and painful bone and cartilage that previously caused pain is completely removed, and with time and rehabilitation, significant function can be restored to a patient who used to be severely impaired.

Before current advancements, patients who possessed joints so affected by degeneration and inflammation underwent a knee replacement, also known as total knee arthroplasty (TKA), the only available option. More recently, significant innovations in surgical technique and instrumentation have given rise to the partial knee replacement, also known as unicompartmental arthroplasty. This newer technique was developed to assist patients whose knees were unilaterally affected – that is to say, patients who only have problems with one specific side of the knee. These particular patients, in whom only part of the knee is affected, can have as much pain and lack of mobility as those patients with degeneration affecting the entire knee. But, not too long ago, the only solution was a complete, or total, knee replacement.

Some patients who have been told that they need total knee arthroplasty may actually be eligible for unicompartmental (partial) arthroplasty. But only an experienced orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Meier will be able to make this type of recommendation for you, based on years of training and experience.

Total Knee Replacement

The knee joint consists of three separate compartments. During a total knee arthroplasty, all of these compartments are altered, and the surfaces all replaced by the addition of synthetic material.

Advantages of Partial Knee Replacement

In a unicompartmental arthroplasty, a special prosthetic piece is used to replace only one compartment of the knee, leaving the other two intact. By definition, a partial knee replacement preserves more of the normal knee anatomy compared to a total knee replacement. With more of the knee left untouched and functional, patients can achieve movements of the knee joint that more closely represent how their knees would function normally.

Other advantages of unicompartmental arthroplasty performed by Dr. Meier include:

  • Outpatient recovery (patients can go home less than 24 hours after surgery)
  • Quicker rehabilitation
  • Better range of motion in the knee
  • Lower risk of infection, stiffness, and blood clots

Several clinical studies have reported that patient satisfaction tends to be higher when undergoing partial knee replacement compared with total knee arthroplasty. However, the long-term success of a knee replacement surgery is highly patient-specific, and both methods can be very effective.

Eligibility for Unicompartmental Arthroplasty

Since the unicompartmental arthroplasty involves replacing only one section of the knee joint, only patients with localized arthritis or degeneration are eligible for this procedure. Additionally, a partial knee replacement is most successful for patients with limited ligament damage in their knee, particularly the ACL. Patients with joint degeneration in two compartments or throughout the knee may be good candidates for total knee replacement surgery.

Expert Knee Replacement Surgery

Dr. Meier is one of the world’s foremost experts in knee surgery. He has the experience and knowledge to perform your knee replacement surgery successfully. Find out more, contact a Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon at (310) 777-7845. You may also fill out our contact form and a representative from Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine will be in touch with you shortly.


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The information available on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace a medical consultation where a physician's judgment may advise you about specific disorders, conditions and or treatment options. We hope the information will be useful for you to become more educated about your health care decisions.