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Pros and cons of partial knee replacement: Is it right for you?

Read time: 5 mins

More than 10 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis or a similar condition that affects their joints. The knee is the largest joint in the body, supporting almost the entire body’s weight, so it’s no surprise that this area ends up being particularly affected.

At its worst, osteoarthritis in the knee can be extremely painful, limiting movement and impacting daily life. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, so the best option for those affected is to manage the condition by exercising regularly and taking pain relief when they need it.

Sometimes though, exercise and painkillers stop being effective. When this happens, your doctor may recommend surgery, such as a partial knee replacement. But what is this procedure, and is it right for you?

Here, we explore the pros and cons of a partial knee replacement versus a total knee replacement.

What is a partial knee replacement?

A partial knee replacement is a surgery (arthroplasty) to replace damaged bone and cartilage with an artificial implant. The healthy cartilage and bone, and the ligaments surrounding the knee, remain intact.

This procedure is only suitable for people whose arthritis is limited to a single compartment in their knee. This is because the rest of the knee must be strong enough to support the partial replacement.

For most people, osteoarthritis is caused by the deterioration of the cartilage in the inner “medial” joint. If you have injured your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or your osteoarthritis affects the whole knee, your only option would be to have a total knee replacement.

A partial arthroplasty is suitable for one in four people with osteoarthritis in the knee, and it can be extremely effective. However, like with any surgery, there are benefits and risks you need to consider.

What are the pros and cons of a partial knee replacement?

Pro: A partial knee replacement means a shorter recovery time

A partial knee replacement is considered a minimally invasive procedure because an orthopaedic surgeon can usually replace the affected area without making a large cut. Compared to a total knee replacement, patients face a much shorter stay in hospital — usually just a couple of days — and typically recover faster overall. You’ll likely experience pain and swelling in your knee as you recover, but your Knee Consultant may prescribe pain relief and anti-inflammatories to help you cope.

However, that’s not to say recovery from a partial knee replacement is quick and easy! After having this operation, you can expect to use crutches for three to four weeks. You’ll also need to have physiotherapy treatment for up to six months to help rebuild the strength in your knee.

Pro: A partial knee replacement carries less risk

All surgeries carry risks, but because a partial knee replacement is a smaller operation, the risk of complications is much lower compared to a full knee replacement.

In addition to the rare complications of going under anaesthesia, some complications are specifically associated with knee surgery. These include:

  • Infection of the wound;
  • Unexpected bleeding into the knee joint;
  • Ligament damage in the area around the knee joint;
  • Persistent knee pain.

One of the other main risks associated with arthroplasty is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in the leg veins. This can happen during the first few weeks after surgery due to reduced movement.

Before you go home, you’ll be given special support stockings to wear to help stop blood from pooling and clotting. You must wear these and, if you’re able, try to stand up and move around once an hour. Bruising around your knee can make it difficult to spot the signs of DVT, but if you notice your skin is red, hard, and hot to the touch, you should contact your doctor immediately.

No operation can be entirely free from risk, but knee surgery is incredibly common and a routine procedure in most hospitals.

Pro: A partial knee replacement means more natural knee motion

One of the pros of a partial knee replacement is that once you’ve recovered, your knee will feel mostly the same, minus the pain.

This is because the ligaments, bone and cartilage that aren’t damaged are left alone during surgery, so they can continue to “speak” to the brain in the same way. If you have a total knee replacement, it can take some getting used to, and your new knee might not feel as natural.

Pro: A partial knee replacement is less expensive than a total knee replacement

If you’re considering a private knee replacement, how much it costs may factor into your decision. If you’re eligible, a partial arthroplasty costs less than a total knee replacement because it’s less invasive and has a shorter recovery time.

At St John & St Elizabeth Hospital, we offer packages that are clear, competitively priced, and easy to understand to give you peace of mind.

Con: A partial knee replacement won’t last forever

Implants are designed to last a long time, but no implant will last forever. Over time, the materials gradually wear out. This has meant that, until recently, only people aged 60 and over were eligible for even a partial knee replacement. Now, though, this surgery is increasingly an option for younger patients with severe osteoarthritis.

You can expect your partial knee replacement to last around 10 years. Total knee replacements have a much longer life — around 25 years.

If you have osteoarthritis in only one part of the knee, a partial knee replacement is considered the better option. You’ll enjoy a much wider range of motion, your knee will feel more “normal”, and you’ll recover much faster compared to a total knee replacement.

Con: Your osteoarthritis can get worse

The other con of a partial knee replacement is that it doesn’t stop osteoarthritis completely. You’ll still have your healthy cartilage and ligaments, and continued use over the years can cause these to deteriorate too.

Fortunately, even if you have a partial knee replacement, you can still have a total knee replacement later if you need it. This might be an option if you need knee surgery when you’re 55 and don’t want to have a total knee replacement and endure a long recovery, only to need it redone when you’re 70. With a partial knee replacement, you can enjoy a fast recovery and better quality of life.
There are pros and cons of a partial knee replacement, and only you can decide which option is right for you. If you’d like to speak to a world-leading Private Orthopaedic Consultant about your options, get in touch with our team today by calling 020 7432 8328 or filling in the contact form.

Posted on: 11 January 2024