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Benefits of Partial Knee Replacement

Advance With MUSC Health
December 13, 2021
Runner holding knee

For a growing number of patients, partial knee replacement surgery is becoming a popular alternative to total knee replacement, an MUSC Health orthopaedist says.

“Partial knee replacement, or unicompartmental knee surgery, has advantages for patients whose osteoarthritis is limited only to one area of the knee,” says Dr. Erik Hansen, assistant professor of orthopaedics, arthritis and joint reconstruction at MUSC Health. “With less pain and a quicker recovery, it is proving to be an effective option that has positive, long-term results.”

Dr. Hansen emphasizes that partial knee replacement isn’t for every knee replacement candidate; patients must be selected carefully based on the extent of their arthritis and prior treatments.

“Only patients whose osteoarthritis is confined to the medial or the lateral compartment of the knee and who have not responded to initial non-surgical treatments such as pain medications, injections or a knee brace should undergo partial knee replacement,” he says.

The procedure, which takes about 40 minutes to perform, involves a smaller incision than a full, total knee replacement. Dr. Hansen removes the damaged cartilage and a small amount of surrounding bone to allow for the insertion of the implant, which consists of metal with a plastic liner. Unlike total knee replacement, all of the knee stabilizing ligaments are kept intact and much less bone needs to be removed.

Patients typically go home the same day or spend one night in the hospital after surgery and are prescribed pain medication, which is usually only needed for a short period of time. Because the procedure is not as invasive, patients have less pain and recover faster.

“Patients quickly regain full mobility and range of motion and transition off of an assistive device sooner than with a total knee replacement,” he says. “Patients also say the knee feels more normal. As a result, they report a high level of satisfaction with the procedure.”

For those reasons, younger, active patients are choosing the partial knee surgery, which formerly was reserved for patients in their 70s and older. Regardless of his patients’ age, Dr. Hansen tells his patients that following a good diet and exercising, especially working on quad strengthening, riding a bike, swimming and other low-impact exercises will help them recover faster.

He says survivorship for the partial knee implant is very good: “Research has shown that 93 percent of implants last at least 10 years,” he says. A common reason for needing a second surgery is progression of arthritis in the other areas of the knee.

Dr. Hansen, who treats patients from across South Carolina and neighboring states, says building relationships with patients through the entire episode of care is one of the most gratifying aspects of his practice.

As one of the newest members of MUSC’s nationally recognized hip and knee replacement and arthritis team, he specializes in operative and non-operative treatment of arthritis in the hip or knee and expects to utilize robotics for partial knee replacement in the near future.

“At MUSC, we have a multitude of resources to treat cases from the simplest to the most complex,” he says. “Our specialists take a team approach, and we strive for clinical excellence to achieve the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

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Keywords: Orthopaedics, For Providers