Partial or Total Knee Replacement: What Is the Right Choice for You?

Discovering that you need surgery to repair your knee can bring a range of emotions — from anxiety about the procedure to enthusiasm about more mobility and less pain. One of the first topics to discuss with your doctor is the difference between a total knee replacement and a partial knee replacement. Then you can work together to make the right choice for your individual circumstances.

Partial Knee Replacement

A partial knee replacement (also called unicompartmental knee arthroplasty) is a procedure that focuses on just one of the three compartments of the knee. One is located on the front of the leg, between the kneecap and the thigh bone. The other compartments are located on the exterior and interior sides of the knee. By operating on only the compartment with the damage, your doctor can leave as much of the natural joint intact as possible. Only the areas with deteriorated tissues, ligaments or bone will be resurfaced.

A good candidate for partial knee replacement is someone who is experiencing osteoarthritis or an injury just in one compartment and who is able to identify the part of the knee that is most painful. The patient should be someone who has been unable to find pain relief and adequate mobility after trying anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy or injections (such as corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid).

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that patients with the following conditions are not good candidates:

  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Significant knee stiffness
  • Ligament damage

A unicompartmental knee replacement is less invasive than a total knee replacement, and it is usually done as a same-day procedure, with the patient returning home the same day. In other instances, you may stay at the hospital for one overnight stay. Partial knee replacement patients typically experience less blood loss, less pain, and a faster recovery. Many patients also report greater flexibility following a partial knee replacement versus a total knee replacement.

Total Knee Replacement

In other instances, a total knee replacement (total knee arthroplasty) can be the best option for a patient. The procedure involves replacing the damaged cartilage of multiple compartments with a smooth surface made of plastic and/or metal. Although each operation varies by individual, in some instances your doctor can replace a knee using minimally invasive techniques and a small incision of only four to six inches, instead of the eight- to ten-inch incision customary with traditional knee replacement operations. Ask your doctor if she or he is skilled in minimally invasive techniques.

People with the following conditions in more than one compartment of the knee are strong candidates for a total knee replacement.

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Severe knee injury
  • Deformity
  • Loss of blood flow
  • Inability to walk without the assistance of ambulatory device (such as a walker or cane)

More than 90% of people who have total knee replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of knee pain and a significant improvement in the ability to perform daily activities, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Your doctor will advise against high-impact activities like jogging or jumping, but you’ll be able to return to exercises like walking, swimming, golfing and dancing, along with every-day activities that may have been painful in the past, such as driving, cleaning, climbing stairs and rising from a chair.


Both partial and total knee replacement can be life-changing. Contact the practice of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gautum Siram for a consultation to determine which option is best for you.


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