All About Partial Knee Replacement Surgery

Do you suffer from severe knee pain and loss of function due to injury, arthritis, overuse, or aging? Your doctor may first recommend treatments such as over-the-counter pain relief medications, cortisone shots, weight loss, exercise, and physical therapy. However, if those treatments aren’t effective, your doctor may talk to you about total or partial knee replacement surgery.

What does knee replacement surgery involve? And how will it help restore function and reduce pain? Understanding the procedure and your options is essential if you’re considering surgery for your situation.

Partial vs Total Knee Replacement: What to Expect

A young woman surgeon examines a man’s knee for partial knee replacement surgery.

At North Carolina Specialty Hospital, our board-certified orthopedic surgeons are among the most highly-skilled and fellowship-trained joint replacement specialists in the southeastern United States. We use advanced technology to provide minimally invasive surgery options with reduced pain and faster recovery time.

What Is Knee Replacement Surgery?

This surgery (also known as knee arthroplasty) removes damaged or diseased bone, tissue, and cartilage from your knee cap and surrounding thigh and shin bones and replaces them with an artificial joint (prosthesis) made of metal or plastic. The surgery is intended to relieve your pain, help you move better, and enhance your quality of life.

Is Knee Replacement Surgery Common?

Yes. Since its introduction in 1968, knee replacement surgery has become one of the most successful and common surgical procedures performed. Today, it’s been estimated that over 600,000 knee replacements are performed annually to help relieve people from their knee pain.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Knee Replacement Surgery?

If one of the following situations applies to you, your doctor may recommend knee replacement surgery:

  • Your knee is misshapen
  • An x-ray shows deterioration
  • Your overall quality of life is declining
  • Your knee has been damaged by athletes or another injury and needs repair
  • Joint pain affects your ability to perform daily activities and may even hurt when at rest
  • Other treatments such as medications and exercise haven’t worked

However, if you may not be a good candidate for knee replacement surgery if:

  • Pain isn’t from joint disease or injury
  • You have a severe illness, infection, or terminal disease
  • You weigh too much, and an artificial joint won’t be able to support you
  • Your skin is too fragile and doesn’t cover your knee well

What Is the Difference Between a Partial vs Total Knee Replacement?

Your knee is made up of three compartments:

  • the medial compartment (inside part of the knee)
  • the lateral compartment (outside the knee)
  • the patellofemoral compartment (front of the knee)

Where your knee damage and pain are located determines whether you have partial or total knee replacement surgery.

Total knee replacement surgery is performed when damage and pain affect all three areas. It removes all three compartments (and any surrounding damaged cartilage and bone) and replaces them with a prosthetic joint.

The surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia or with a spinal nerve block and takes one to two hours. The incision will probably be eight to ten inches, and you will probably remain in the hospital for one to three days.

You may start physical therapy and exercise as soon as several hours after surgery, and light daily activities can usually be taken up again in as little as three weeks.

Partial knee replacement surgery, on the other hand, is recommended if you have damage to the medial or lateral compartments. Only the damaged part is removed and replaced with a prosthesis. This preserves range of motion because healthy tissue and bone are not removed.

The incision will probably be between four to six inches. As a result, recovery is faster and there is less blood loss during surgery. Surgery time may also be shorter than total knee replacement, although the start of therapy and exercises is similar.

Improved Surgical Experience with MAKOplasty

Advances in technology have benefited both total and partial knee replacement patients by reducing pain, surgical and recovery time. An example is MAKOplasty, a robotic device that helps surgeons make minimally invasive incisions and have greater accuracy. Results also include less scarring. North Carolina Specialty Hospital was one of the first hospitals in the state to offer both MAKO partial knee replacement and total replacement surgeries. We also use the Robotic Arm Interactive Orthopaedic System (RIO) for increased precision to target damaged joint areas without compromising healthy bone and tissue.

What Is Recovery Like?

You’ll have both medical and practical aspects to your recovery.

Medical Considerations

  • After surgery, you’ll be prescribed pain medication, but your doctor should carefully manage any opioid options to reduce the risk of addiction. Pain during activity and at night is common for the first several weeks.
  • You’ll have stitches or staples closing your incision that will be removed several weeks after surgery. Keep the wound bandaged to prevent infection and irritation from clothing.
  • Exercising your knee begins several hours after surgery to strengthen your leg and reduce the risk of blood clots. You’ll follow prescribed exercises and therapy and should be able to resume normal activities within three to six weeks.
  • After surgery, you’ll need crutches, a cane, or a walker to help you get around.
  • Watch for signs of infection and call your doctor immediately if you experience fevers and chills or redness, tenderness, swelling, or discharge around the incision.

Practical Considerations

  • You may need someone to help with cooking, bathing, doing laundry, and other aspects of daily living.
  • Driving is restricted for four to six weeks until you can bend your knee to fit in the car and have adequate braking and acceleration control.
  • You may want to set up a temporary living space on the same floor so that you don’t have to walk up and down the stairs.
  • You’ll need to have a shower bench or chair for bathing. And you may need to get a toilet seat riser with arms if you have a low toilet.

Knee Replacement Surgery: Additional FAQs

Is knee replacement surgery successful?

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that 90% of people who have knee replacement surgery experience a significant reduction in pain afterward.

How long does the joint last?

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, more than 90% of modern total knee replacements still function well 15 years after the surgery.

What about total or partial knee replacement for athletes?

Each situation is different, especially if you are a professional athlete. Speak to your surgeon about your options and whether a return to full activity is required or achievable.

Talk to North Carolina Specialty Hospital About Your Knee Pain

If you’re suffering from pain in your knees, come see us at North Carolina Specialty Hospital, one of the leading orthopedic centers in the state. We’re proud of our past — healing North Carolinians since 1926 — while using the most cutting-edge techniques to bring the future of care to you today.

Our orthopedic surgeons can help you determine if you need partial or total knee replacement surgery and explain your options. To schedule a consultation, look on our Physicians page under Orthopedics and click on your desired physician’s photo to make an appointment from their personal page. Or contact us today.