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Unicompartmental or partial knee replacement is a surgical option offered if only one compartment of your knee is damaged. It includes replacing the damaged bone with metal or plastic components.

The knee is composed of three compartments:

  • Medial - the inside part of the knee
  • Lateral - the outside part of the knee
  • Patellofemoral - the front of your knee between your kneecap and thighbone

Over time, these surfaces start to wear away causing injuries such as osteoarthritis, which can be incredibly painful and debilitating.

Why is unicompartmental knee replacement a solution?

Having part of your knee replaced instead of the entire thing means less interference with the knee, meaning you’re likely to recover quicker and still have good function of the joint. However, those who have unicompartmental knee replacement surgery are much more likely to need surgery to revise the joint than those who have had a full knee replacement.

About the procedure

An unicompartmental knee replacement makes use of reduced invasive surgery. Prior to your surgery, you will have each stage of treatment and recovery explained to you and then be asked to sign a consent form. This is to confirm that you understand the procedure, including what the benefits and risks are, both during and after the operation.

Unicompartmental knee replacement surgery can be performed under general anaesthetic or spinal anaesthetic and usually takes two hours. A small incision is made in the front of the knee so a full examination of each compartment can be examined to confirm which part is damaged. This area will then be removed and replaced by metal caps or covers, which will be held in place by cement. A plastic insert will be placed between the two caps to allow for smooth movement.

Once the operation is over, you’ll be taken into recovery. In some cases, a small tube may be coming out of your wound to drain away any excess fluid.

Advantages of unicompartmental knee replacement

The benefits of unicompartmental knee replacement surgery include:

  • Quicker recovery time
  • Better function of the knee

Risks of unicompartmental knee replacement

The risks involved in unicompartmental knee replacement surgery include not knowing until the time of surgery whether you are suitable for the procedure because you may not have strong, healthy ligaments within your knee. Also, those who have undergone a partial knee replacement are more likely to need to have their knee looked at again later in life.

Recovery

After your operation, you may be feeling tender and sore, which can be taken care of with pain medication. You may be required to wear support stockings to help with your circulation and will be assigned a physiotherapist to help with movement. You are usually discharged after two or three days following an X-ray to check everything is in position.

Once at home, it’s important you stick to the exercises given to you by the physiotherapist as they are specifically designed to help you make a full recovery. For the first week or two, your movement will not be the same as usual so it would be worth asking someone to stay with you or check on you daily.

You should aim to rest your knee as much as you can but it is also important to gradually reintroduce physical activity into your life. Depending on the work you do, you should be able to return to your job after two or three months, but it might be a good idea to phase yourself back into work.

Most people make a full recovery after six to eight months, but like with any surgery, there can be complications. If you remain in pain, suffer from bleeding, have difficulty passing urine or get an infection after eight months, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

It’s important you stick to the exercises given to you by the physiotherapist
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