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Partial vs. Total Knee Replacement: What’s the difference?

Medically Reviewed by F. Thane DeWeese, MD | May 3, 2022

Suppose you’ve developed arthritis and are experiencing weakness, pain, and limited movement in your knee. If these symptoms last, your physician may recommend knee replacement surgery, also called “arthroplasty.”

This procedure involves removing damaged or diseased surfaces and replacing them with metal or plastic parts. It often improves the quality of life for patients and eliminates their pain. Recovery time and post-operative mobility, however, depend on the kind of replacement you receive—partial or total. 

Both replacement procedures remove about a fourth of an inch of the worn cartilage and bone from the end of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). Then, a surgeon resurfaces with metal and plastic caps.

Partial Knee Replacement

A partial knee replacement occurs when doctors only reconstruct a section of the joint, leaving some of your original bone, tissue, and ligaments intact. They typically perform this surgery on knees with isolated arthritis along the inside border.

Those who undergo partial knee replacement can typically enjoy a wide range of motion in their limb and can return to active lifestyles after recovery and physical therapy.

A partial knee replacement involves less surgery time, quicker recovery, less risk, and a more natural-feeling knee. However, it also carries a slightly higher revision rate, meaning you may, at some point, need to go back for another knee surgery.


Total Knee Replacement  

As its name suggests, total knee replacement surgery involves removing and reconstructing the entire joint. It’s a more invasive procedure than partial replacement and requires a longer recovery time. Doctors often perform this surgery on those with two or more damaged joint components, especially those with conditions that worsen over time.

Although partial knee replacement is less invasive and allows for more mobility, total knee replacement is a much more common procedure. It’s also more reliable since reconstructing an entire joint decreases its chances of failing again.


What to Expect 

Any arthroplasty will require recovery time. Expect the procedure to last about an hour. If you have the surgery performed in an outpatient surgery setting, you can go home the same day. If you and your physician opt for a hospital setting, you can expect to stay 1-4 days, depending on the type of replacement you receive. You will be able to walk again a few weeks or months after the surgery. You also will need physical therapy to regain your strength and muscle control.

If you are dealing with joint pain or want more information about joint replacement surgery, our staff is ready to help. Just call us at 270. 442.9461.