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Partial (Unicondylar) Knee Replacement

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Arthritis and injuries can cause chronic knee pain, swelling, weakness, and mobility issues. If these symptoms are affecting your quality of life, it may be time to consider a partial knee replacement. This procedure is designed to reduce discomfort and improve function in the knee joint by resurfacing damaged areas and replacing them with prostheses. Our board certified orthopaedic surgeons are extensively trained in the most advanced knee replacement techniques available, which allow individuals to heal faster and with less scarring than traditional open surgeries. If knee problems have not improved with non-surgical treatment, talk to our medical team about whether a partial knee replacement, or perhaps another procedure, could address your concerns effectively.

What is a unicompartmental or unicondylar knee replacement?

Partial knee replacement, also known as a unicondylar or unicompartmental knee replacement, is a less invasive form of a total knee replacement. This technique can be used to replace some but not all portions of the knee joint if only one area is affected by damage. The amount of damage is determined through X-rays and other imaging technologies, as well as a thorough medical evaluation. Recovery following a partial knee replacement is often shorter, allowing patients to return to normal activity and restored movement faster than with a total knee replacement.

When is a partial knee replacement recommended?

The knee is made of three major compartments, known as the medial compartment (inside), lateral compartment (outside), and patellofemoral compartment (front, between the kneecap and thighbone). If damage is relegated to a single compartment, partial knee replacement surgery may be recommended over a total knee replacement. More broadly, knee surgery may be recommended if non-surgical treatment fails to relieve chronic pain, swelling, and mobility issues. During your initial consultation, our surgeons will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and develop a customized treatment plan that optimizes your outcome. We believe that conservative, non-surgical, and minimally invasive methods should be used whenever possible, and our physicians may recommend trying a non-invasive alternative to surgery before scheduling an operation.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of a partial knee replacement?

A partial knee replacement offers several advantages over a total knee replacement if the patient only experiences issues within a single knee compartment. The most common benefits of a partial knee replacement are:

  • Shorter recovery
  • Less pain after the surgery
  • Reduced blood loss

Some patients also note that, compared with a total knee replacement, which replaces many of the existing tissues with prostheses, a partial knee replacement has a more natural “feel.” Additionally, some individuals have indicated that they have greater range of motion when bending the knee with a partial replacement. It is important to understand, if arthritis expands beyond the treated area, additional knee surgery may be needed in the future. We will discuss the potential for this with regard to your unique condition during your consultation.

Partial Knee Replacement Procedure

Either general anesthesia or spinal anesthesia will be used, which will be discussed prior to your operation. The joint will be inspected and the damaged material will be removed and replaced with a prosthesis. Most are metal or metal and medical-grade plastic that are cemented or pinned into place. In some cases, additional damage may be found during the evaluation, in which case a total knee replacement will be performed. Your doctor will go over whether this is a possibility with you prior to the operation.

Partial Knee Replacement Recovery

Most patients return home between one and three days after the operation, although some may be released the same day. Some discomfort is to be expected, but pain will be managed with medication so that you can feel as comfortable as possible. Soon after the surgery you will be asked to begin putting weight on your knee. You will also need a cane, crutches, or walker for a short period until you’re comfortable walking without assistance. One of the most important parts of recovery is physical therapy. You will be taught exercises and stretches to help the healing process and restore motion and strength in the affected knee. Follow-up visits will also be scheduled to monitor your progress, address any questions, and support your journey back to health.

Would you like to know more about partial knee replacement surgery? Contact our medical team to ask questions and to schedule a consultation with one of our leading surgeons.