Differences Between Partial and Total Knee Replacement

Differences Between Partial and Total Knee Replacement


Knee replacement surgery, also referred to as joint replacement surgery, is a vital treatment option for those with severe knee arthritis, which can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life. Understanding the distinctions between partial and total knee replacement—often termed partial vs total knee replacement—is crucial for patients and caregivers to make informed decisions that best suit their needs.

What Is Knee Replacement Surgery?

Joint replacement surgery encompasses both partial and total knee replacement, which are designed to alleviate the pain caused by knee arthritis and restore function to the joint. The choice between partial knee replacement surgeries and total knee replacement hinges on several factors, including the severity of joint damage, health history, and patient preferences regarding recovery times and functional outcomes.

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is a hinge joint involving various components, including bones, cartilage, ligaments, and blood vessels, that work together to ensure smooth movement. Each type of knee replacement surgery—whether partial or total—aims to replace damaged elements with artificial joint components, typically made of metal and plastic.

The Three Compartments Of The Knee

  • Medial Compartment: Commonly affected in people with knee arthritis.
  • Lateral Compartment: Less frequently affected but crucial for the knee’s lateral stability.
  • Patellofemoral Compartment: Involves the patella and femur and is key in knee flexion movements.

Knee Stability Structures

  • Ligaments: These include crucial structures like the ACL and PCL which guide the motion of the knee.
  • Meniscus: These are knee cushions that absorb shock during physical activities.
  • Muscles: They provide the force needed for movement and help stabilize the knee.

Differences Between Partial and Total Knee Replacement

Differences Between Partial and Total Knee Replacement

Partial Knee Replacement (PKR)

  • Compartmental Replacement: Also known as unicompartmental knee arthroplasty, this treatment option targets only the damaged compartment, preserving the normal knee anatomy as much as possible.
  • Preservation of Knee Anatomy: The goal is to maintain the original knee structure, leading to a more natural feel post-surgery.
  • Ligament Preservation: This approach allows for the retention of the knee’s original ligaments, contributing to a quicker recovery and better functional outcome.

Total Knee Replacement (TKR)

  • Complete Compartment Replacement: This procedure involves replacing all components of the knee, making it a more invasive procedure but often necessary for patients with extensive arthritis.
  • Involvement of Ligaments: Involves the resection or adjustment of key ligaments, which can alter the knee’s natural mechanics.
  • Extensive Surgery and Recovery: Given its comprehensive nature, TKR usually requires longer recovery times and more intensive rehabilitation.

Benefits and Risks of Partial and Total Knee Replacement

Benefits of Partial Knee Replacement

  • Less Bone and Soft Tissue Dissection: The procedure is less invasive, sparing muscle and blood vessels, which aids in faster postoperative recovery.
  • Less Blood Loss: A significant advantage that reduces the overall risk during surgery.
  • Faster Recovery of Range of Motion: Many partial knee replacement patients experience a rapid recovery, returning to everyday activities much sooner.
  • Better Range of Motion Overall: The closer replication of the normal knee helps maintain more natural movement.
  • Shorter Hospital Stay and Rehabilitation: Often, patients can return home on the day of surgery, with a reduced need for prescription pain medication.

Benefits of Total Knee Replacement

  • Long-Lasting Relief: For those undergoing TKR, the results can be transformative, offering sustained relief from pain and substantial improvement in conducting daily activities.
  • Lower Revision Rate: Long-term studies indicate that TKR has a lower rate of complications requiring revision surgery.
  • Comprehensive Solution for Severe Cases: TKR is the preferred treatment option for patients with arthritis affecting multiple compartments of the knee.

Risks and Potential Complications

Both types of knee replacement surgeries carry risks

  • Loosening: The artificial joint may loosen over time, potentially necessitating another surgery.
  • Infection: A serious risk that requires immediate attention to prevent severe complications.
  • Nerve Injury: This can result from the surgical process, potentially affecting mobility.
  • Fracture: The bones around the implant may fracture either during or after the procedure.
  • Other Complications: Blood clots and adverse reactions to anesthesia are additional concerns.

Specific Risks for Partial Knee Replacement

  • Higher Revision Rate: Specific risks associated with partial knee replacement include a higher revision rate. Although partial knee surgery offers significant benefits, it is more susceptible to subsequent revisions compared to total knee replacements. This increased likelihood stems from the progression of arthritis in the compartments of the knee that remain untreated during the initial surgery.

Candidates for Partial Knee Replacement

Partial knee replacement is particularly advantageous for certain patient conditions due to its less invasive nature and targeted approach:

  • Localized Arthritis: This procedure is ideal for patients whose arthritis is confined to one compartment of the knee. By targeting only the affected area, partial knee replacement can effectively alleviate pain without unnecessary intervention in the healthy parts of the knee.
  • Intact Ligaments: Patients with intact ligaments are excellent candidates for partial knee replacement because the existing ligaments support the new joint, maintaining knee stability and optimizing function after surgery.
  • Adequate Range of Motion: For those who still maintain a good range of motion, partial knee replacement enhances outcomes by preserving natural knee mechanics, which is less disruptive compared to total knee replacement.
  • Absence of Severe Deformity: In cases where the knee’s deformity is not severe, partial knee replacement offers a sufficient and effective solution, avoiding the more extensive surgical measures required by total knee replacement that are necessary for correcting significant deformities.
  • Age and Activity Level: Younger, more active patients often benefit from partial knee replacement because it involves a quicker recovery and less interruption to daily and physical activities, allowing them to return to their active lifestyles sooner.

Candidates for Total Knee Replacement

Candidates for Total Knee Replacement

Total knee replacement is particularly beneficial under certain conditions, largely due to its comprehensive nature and ability to address extensive joint issues:

  • Severe Knee Pain and Stiffness: This often indicates widespread and severe joint damage. Total knee replacement can provide substantial pain relief and restore functionality when the entire joint is affected, making it an effective solution for such extensive damage.
  • Moderate to Severe Arthritis: When arthritis extensively impacts the knee joint, total knee replacement is advantageous as it addresses all affected compartments, offering a holistic solution to significantly reduce pain and improve joint mobility.
  • Inadequate Response to Other Treatments: For patients who have not seen improvement with nonsurgical treatment options, total knee replacement provides a definitive solution that nonsurgical methods cannot, especially when the joint damage is advanced.
  • Significant Joint Damage: In cases of extensive joint damage, total knee replacement is often the only option that can offer effective relief and restored function. By replacing the entire knee joint, it ensures that all damaged areas are addressed, which is crucial for achieving the best possible outcomes.
  • Advanced Age: Older patients frequently benefit from total knee replacement due to its durability and effectiveness in managing severe arthritis. The procedure is designed to offer a long-lasting solution, which is particularly important for ensuring quality of life in older age.

Why patients with inflammatory types of arthritis are not good candidates?

Inflammatory arthritis causes widespread inflammation and damage, making partial knee replacement ineffective. TKR offers a holistic solution that addresses all affected areas, providing relief and restoring function more effectively.


Choosing between partial and total knee replacement involves careful consideration of many factors, including the extent of knee damage, expected lifestyle post-surgery, and personal health history. Each surgery offers distinct advantages and comes with specific risks, making it imperative to consult with an experienced orthopedic surgeon to determine the best course of action.

At Timely Medical, we understand the impact that knee pain can have on your quality of life. If you’re considering knee replacement surgery in Calgary, our expert team is here to help you navigate your options without the wait. Delaying treatment can lead to further complications, and our resources on the dangers of delaying knee replacement surgery highlight why timely care is crucial. Choose Timely Medical for a prompt, professional, and patient-centered approach to your knee health and recovery.


What is the hardest part of knee replacement recovery?

Regaining full mobility and managing postoperative pain are significant challenges for many knee replacement patients.

How do you sit on the toilet after knee surgery?

Utilizing assistive devices like raised toilet seats and support rails can help manage the discomfort and facilitate safer, easier movements.

How long does it take to walk normally after knee replacement?

Typically, patients start walking with support immediately after surgery, but achieving normal gait without discomfort may take up to several months, depending on the type of surgery and individual recovery progress.

About The Author

Christian Baker

Christian was born in a Group Health hospital in Washington state and holds both American & Canadian citizenship. Christian is the head of our diagnostic & ambulatory surgery department for our Canadian…

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