What’s the Difference Between a Partial Knee Replacement and a Total Knee Replacement?

Summit Orthopedics hip and knee reconstruction specialist Michael Baer, M.D., explains the difference between partial and total knee replacement surgery.

If you’re suffering from knee arthritis, there’s one big question: when is it time to have surgery? One reason many people put off knee replacement surgery longer than they should is because they’re concerned about how long recovery from a total knee operation may take. Some wonder if a partial knee replacement may be the answer.

“I get a questions regularly in my practice about the difference between a partial knee replacement and a total knee replacement,” said Dr. Michael Baer, a hip and knee reconstruction specialist at Summit.

What is the difference between a partial and total knee replacement?

The short answer is, partial knee replacement can be a good option for eligible patients, but it only applies in specific situations. Your orthopedic surgeon can discuss your specific case and can advise you whether you are a candidate for partial knee replacement surgery.

In a partial knee replacement, the surgeon only replaces a portion of the knee joint. A total knee replacement, by contrast, replaces all the joint surfaces.

There are a couple of elements that a knee replacement specialist will need to assess in order to determine whether a partial knee replacement is the right choice. Patients who are good candidates for a partial knee replacement generally have degenerative changes that is confined to a single compartment of the knee.

“It’s a very specific indication — it’s not for everybody,” Dr. Baer said. “Having a full understanding of the patient’s activity level as well as the area of the knee that is affected by the degenerative condition is key.”

Often, the isolated degeneration is the result of a previous injury. “If the degeneration is caused by an injury in a particular spot, there may be no sign that the arthritis is more systemic,” Dr. Baer said. “Those individuals may be good candidates for a partial knee replacement.”

Why might people be interested in a partial knee replacement?

The benefits of a partial knee replacement are:

  • It’s joint-preserving for the rest of the knee, and therefore allows patients to maintain a more anatomic knee
  • It typically allows for a quicker recovery
  • The knee generally feels more natural than a total knee does

For most, total knee is the way to go

“The total knee is the best choice for the majority of people who are active with osteoarthritis, where the degeneration is on more than one surface of the joint,” Dr. Baer said.

The best advice is to speak with your physician about your choices. “There are various options, but the goal is to find the one that best suits you and your lifestyle,” Dr. Baer said.

When to seek treatment for your arthritis

Arthritis doesn’t have to spell the end of an active life. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms or persistent pain, the renowned arthritis specialists at Summit Orthopedics can help. We work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons will consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options. Summit is home to innovative joint replacement options. Our Vadnais Heights Surgery Center is one of a select few nationally to receive The Joint Commission’s Advanced Certification for Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement.

Start your journey to healthier joints. Find your arthritis expert, schedule an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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