What's the Difference Between Total Knee and Partial Knee Replacement?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that over 600,000 knee replacements are performed in the U.S. each year. (AAOS) While partial knee replacements and total knee replacements may seem near-identical, the comparison is more ‘apples to oranges’. There are three main compartments of a knee:

  • The lateral component - The outside region of the knee, which is where the lateral cruciate ligament, or LCL as it’s often referred to, is located.
  • The medial component - The inside region of the knee where the medial cruciate ligament (MCL) is located.
  • The patellofemoral component - Located at the front of the knee, including the patella and closely connected to the femur, hence the name ‘patellofemoral’.

While total knee replacement, or full knee replacement as it’s sometimes called, is highly successful, it’s important to note not all knee osteoarthritis patients suffer from arthritic conditions in all regions of their knee. Some patients may be better off with a partial knee replacement to preserve the existing biological hardware inside the knee.

Questions to Determine Whether You Need a Total or Partial Knee Replacement

If you’re suffering from knee osteoarthritis, you may wonder whether you need a total knee arthroplasty (total knee replacement) or a partial knee replacement. There are several questions and variables to consider in this situation:

  • What is the extent of your knee osteoarthritic pain? If you’re experiencing significant differences in pain between one compartment of your knee instead of all three evenly, it may be a sign you’re better off considering partial knee replacement. For example, it is far more common for the medial compartment to be inhibited by osteoarthritis compared to the lateral compartment.
  • What health or lifestyle activities would you like to pursue? If you’re a lifelong golfer suffering from osteoarthritis, it may make sense to choose total knee replacement. Patients of all ages share they feel they have a “new lease on life” after a total knee replacement.

Other factors include age, current health condition, current medications, and history of invasive surgeries. Your doctor will also want to discuss with you any potential health complications, such as high blood pressure, familial history of heart risks, etc. These are essential questions to answer when considering knee replacement surgery.

Types of Prosthetic Options for Total and Partial Knee Replacement

Once you and your doctor decide on the appropriate type of knee replacement, it often determines what type of hardware may be considered. Your desired activity level and lifestyle will also influence what types of knee implants are appropriate. The American Association for Orthopaedic Surgeons has an excellent list of available knee implants to consider. You may want to review this information with your orthopedic specialist.

Can I Have a Total Knee Replacement If I Already Had a Partial Knee Replacement on the Same Knee?

Total knee replacement may be a viable option if you previously underwent partial knee replacement on the same knee. If there is a good possibility you will need total knee replacement in the future, you may be better off with a total knee replacement instead of a partial knee replacement. Each patient’s situation is unique, which is why we recommend consulting with your doctor to find what’s right for you.

We created a free resource to help you know how to navigate your post-op recovery from knee replacement surgery. Download your free copy of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Recovering from Knee Replacement Surgery and What to Expect Following Surgery”.

If you’re suffering from knee osteoarthritis, your best decision is to connect with our staff of board-certified physicians at Orthopedic Associates. Schedule your next appointment here.