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Total or partial: Which knee replacement option is right for you?

Provider touching knee while holding an x-ray.

There are pros and cons to each procedure. In the end, your surgeon will recommend the one that's the best fit for you.

If you're thinking about knee replacement surgery, you may have heard that it's possible to have a partial replacement instead of a total one. That likely sounds appealing. However, it's important to know that, while each type of surgery can be highly successful, not everyone is a candidate for both.

Is partial replacement an option?

Your knee is made up of three major compartments, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS):

  • Medial (the inside part of the knee).
  • Lateral (the outside part).
  • Patellofemoral compartment (the front of the knee between the kneecap and thighbone).

If only one part of your knee is damaged and you don't have issues like ligament damage or significant knee stiffness, you may be eligible for partial, or unicompartmental, knee replacement. During this surgery, only the damaged knee compartment is replaced.

However, most people considering a knee implant have more than one compartment of their knee that needs to be replaced. These people need total knee replacement. In fact, more than 90% of knee replacement surgeries are total replacements, according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS).

Weighing the pros and cons

If partial replacement is an option for you, your surgeon will go over the pros and cons.

According to the AAOS, potential benefits of partial replacement include a quicker recovery and less pain after surgery. Some people say that a partial knee replacement feels more natural and bends better than a total knee replacement.

One possible drawback to a partial knee replacement? If arthritis develops in other parts of your knee, you may need a total knee replacement in the future.

Have other questions about knee surgery?

If you're considering knee replacement, it's normal to have a lot of questions. Your doctor is a great resource. In addition, here are answers to some common questions about knee replacement.

Reviewed 10/23/2023

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