The knee is a joint that takes a significant amount of wear and tear over the course of a lifetime, which is why it is often one of the first joints in the body to become diseased or damaged. A painful knee that has lost much of its function can become problematic for you as you try to perform your daily tasks. Surgery is often the best treatment choice, but that doesn’t always have to mean full knee replacement. The Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio in Lima offers an alternative to complete replacement, known as unicondylar knee replacement, for patients that qualify for a less invasive procedure.

Overview of the Knee

The knee joint consists of multiple parts:

  • The inside of the knee (medial compartment)
  • The outside area (lateral compartment)
  • The front of the knee from the kneecap and thighbone (patellofemoral compartment)

When osteoarthritis occurs in the knee joint, it often affects just one of these compartments. Instead of replacing the entire joint, our surgeons can address only the damaged area. This approach allows for a less invasive procedure that restores the motion and function of the joint with less discomfort and downtime than traditional knee replacement.

What is Unicondylar Knee Replacement?

Unicondylar knee replacement, also known as partial or unicompartmental knee replacement, is surgery that replaces only the damaged portion of the knee joint. In most cases, this means smaller incisions can be used, which reduces postoperative pain, risk and recovery time. Partial knee replacement has been used for decades, but during its early years, it saw only mixed success. Over the past 25 years, improvements to both implant design and technique have resulted in a procedure that is very successful for patients suffering from arthritis and damage in just a portion of the knee. Because it is highly effective, we will offer this alternative to patients that qualify for the operation.

When Is Unicondylar Knee Replacement Necessary?

Unicondylar knee replacement is most commonly used to treat osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis occurs when the cartilage within the knee joint wears away, resulting in bones scraping against each other.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis typically begin as localized pain that is aggravated with activity. As the condition progresses, the pain can spread, and swelling may occur after activity. In its most advanced stages, osteoarthritis leads to stiffness and deformities that may necessitate surgery for relief.

Is Unicondylar Knee Replacement Right for You?

Good candidates for unicondylar knee replacement include patients whose arthritis is contained in one specific area of the knee, who do not have rheumatoid arthritis and whose ligaments are in good condition. It can also provide relief from symptoms in some people who are poor candidates for total knee replacement surgery.

Although most patients are over the age of 50, this procedure may be performed on younger patients with significant knee damage that is incapacitating.

To determine whether unicondylar knee replacement is the best course of treatment for you, our physicians will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Imaging tests will be conducted to determine the precise location of the damage and its severity.

What Are the Advantages of Unicondylar Knee Replacement?

Some of the benefits of a unicondylar knee replacement over a total knee replacement include:

  • Smaller incisions
  • Reduced blood loss during surgery
  • Lower risk of infection and blood clots
  • Little or no time spent in the hospital post-procedure
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced post-operative pain
  • Feels more like a natural knee
  • Preserves healthy tissue in the knee, promoting better knee function and range of motion

The disadvantage of unicondylar knee replacement compared to total knee replacement is the potential need for additional surgery. A total knee replacement may be required in the future if arthritis develops in the areas of the knee that were not initially replaced.

How Surgery is Performed

Unicondylar knee replacement may be performed using regional or general anesthesia and usually takes between one and two hours to complete. Your surgeon will create a small incision at the front of the knee and examine the components of your knee in more detail to verify only some of the compartments require replacement. If your surgeon determines partial replacement will serve your needs best, the operation will proceed. If more damage is found, a full knee replacement may be done instead. This possibility is discussed with you prior to your surgery, so you know what to expect.

In unicondylar knee replacement surgery, small pieces of cartilage and bone are removed from the affected portions of the thigh bone (femur) and the larger bone in the lower leg (tibia). They are replaced with metal prosthetics and fixed into place with bone cement. A plastic insert separates the prosthetics at the ends of the bones to allow for smooth, fluid motion of the joint after surgery.

Recovery After Unicondylar Knee Replacement

Once your surgery is over, we will move you to a recovery area where you can be monitored as the anesthesia wears off. In some cases, you can go home later that same day. Other patients may require a hospital stay of a day or two before they are ready to head home.

Pain and swelling should be expected after partial knee replacement, but you will have medication and instructions on how to care for your knee to keep you as comfortable as possible during the early part of the recovery process. You will start putting weight on the knee soon after your procedure, although you will need assistance like a cane or walker to move about for the first few weeks. You will also undergo supervised physical therapy to restore strength and motion to the joint over time. Most patients are ready to resume their regular schedules within about six weeks.

How Long Does a Unicondylar Knee Replacement Last?

With an experienced surgeon and an appropriately selected patient, the prosthetics have a survival rate comparable to a total knee replacement in the first decade following surgery. The prosthetics can deteriorate with time and repeated use, requiring revision surgery. If arthritis worsens and affects other areas of the knee, total knee replacement may be necessary.

Request a Consultation at the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio

Our physicians have extensive training in the diagnosis and care of various joint injuries. Our priority is to help you make a quick recovery and return to an active lifestyle through an individualized approach to treatment.

To learn more about this option, contact the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio today at 419-222-6622.