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A Guide to Partial Knee Joint Replacement Surgery

written by: Jacquelyn Gilchrist • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/9/2011

If you suffer from severe arthritic knee pain, talk to your doctor about a knee replacement. Partial knee joint replacements can greatly reduce pain and improve mobility. Discuss the procedure, what to do to prepare, and what to expect during your recovery with your doctor.

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    What is a Partial Knee Replacement?

    A partial knee replacement is also called a unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA). Rather than replacing the whole joint, this surgery only replaces the damaged area. This may be either the outside, or lateral, part of the knee, or the inside, or medial, compartment. An artificial knee implant is placed into the joint.

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    Is Partial Knee Replacement Right for You?

    Often, patients who undergo partial knee joint replacements suffer from severe knee pain due to osteoarthritis or a knee deformity. This pain may keep them up at night and prevent them from performing normal daily activities such as household chores. They have already tried less drastic measures, such as physical therapy and medications, without experiencing adequate results. You may be a candidate for knee surgery if this describes you. If the damage to your knee is confined to a specific area, you may be a good candidate for a partial replacement, rather than a total knee replacement.

    In addition, a surgeon may recommend this procedure to patients who are relatively sedentary, maintain a healthy weight, are 55 years old or older and who have knee ligaments that are still intact.

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    Preparation for Surgery

    Prepare for your knee surgery well in advance of the procedure. While you recover, your mobility will be limited. Plan to live on only one floor of your home to avoid climbing stairs. If you must climb stairs, ensure that the handrails are secure. Install handrails in your bathtub, as well. Remove any area rugs and loose electrical cords on your floor.

    You may wish to stock your kitchen with extra goods now to reduce errands later. If you live alone, consider having a friend or a temporary caregiver stay with you for awhile. Arrange to have someone drive you home from the hospital after surgery.

    Inform the surgeon of all medications and over-the-counter supplements you take. Some supplements and drugs can interfere with blood clotting. You may need to stop taking them prior to surgery. Tell the surgeon if you have any allergies.

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    Partial Knee Replacement Procedure

    Partial knee joint replacements require the patient to be unconscious, or under general anesthesia. After you are asleep, the surgical team will sterilize the knee area and make an incision. Once the surgeon has access to the knee, he can assess the extent of the damage. Worn-out and damage cartilage and bone is removed. The surgeon can then place the implant into the joint and anchor it. Before stitching the incision, the surgical team will move and bend your leg to ensure the alignment of the implant is correct. This procedure typically takes about two hours.

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    Recovering From Surgery

    Expect to stay in the hospital for at least one night. Depending on your response to the surgery, your doctor may recommend a short stay in a rehabilitation center. However, your care team will encourage you to place weight on your leg immediately and to move around.

    Expect to use a walker, crutches, or a cane for the first one to two weeks after your knee surgery. You will work with a physical therapist. The therapist will show you specific exercises to increase your range-of-motion and strengthen the area.

    Resume your regular activities slowly. Talk to your doctor about exercises like swimming and walking. Avoid any activities that are high-impact, such as jogging and jump rope.

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    Risks and Complications

    Call your doctor if you experience any possible complications from your partial knee replacement surgery. This can include reactions to your pain medications, respiratory difficulties, infection, and bleeding. Some patients may also experience pain during kneeling, damage to the nerves and blood vessels, deep vein thrombosis, and fluid buildup in the joint. Infrequently, the implant may fail and additional surgery is required.