Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Should I get a partial knee replacement?

Q. I am 55 and have a bad right knee from playing lots of sports. I am interested in getting a partial knee replacement. I've heard that the recovery is shorter and the result is better than a total replacement. What do you think?

A. The first decision that you and your orthopedic surgeon need to make is whether or not you need an operation. Joint replacement works to relieve pain and will help the knee to function better. If your knee pain prevents you from performing daily activities — walking, climbing stairs, light yard work — a replacement should be considered.

But a lot of flags go up if you are thinking that a replacement will let you return to playing vigorous sports. No knee replacement, whether full or partial, should be subjected to impact loading — the pounding that occurs when you run or jump. The replacement joint will loosen up, and parts of it will wear out faster, so it will almost certainly not last as long. Knee replacements really aren't the answer for people with arthritic knees who want to go back to the days when they could run for miles or play a hard game of pick-up basketball.

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