Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Minimally invasive knee replacement

Q. I need a knee replacement and am trying to decide between a minimally invasive operation and a traditional one. What do you think?

A. The traditional operation involves an incision that's about eight to 10 inches long that goes down the front of the knee and leg. With the minimally invasive operation, the incision is about half as long, and some of the operations use a "lateral" approach that involves making the incision on the outside of the knee. But the traditional and the minimally invasive operations have more in common than not. The surgeon still cuts away portions of the femur (thighbone) and the tibia (shin bone) that form the knee, and it still involves replacing them with a prosthesis that is designed to restore movement and decrease pain.

Some people find minimally invasive surgery appealing for cosmetic reasons — and it does result in a smaller scar. But the main selling points are less pain after the operation and a speedier recovery, so the benefits of knee replacement are experienced sooner. Minimally invasive surgery should be able to deliver on these promises: a smaller incision does mean less tissue damage. And proponents of the operations can point to some studies that have shown some advantages, such as shorter hospital stays and less blood loss.

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