What is partial knee replacement surgery?

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Partial knee replacement: Overview

Partial knee replacement is used when one side of the knee is damaged. It replaces only the damaged part of the knee.

Your doctor will make a cut in your knee. This cut is called an incision. It will leave a scar that usually fades with time.

You may be able to go home the same day. If you have partials on both knees at once, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or more.

Most people go back to normal activities or work in 4 to 12 weeks. This depends on your health. It also depends on how well your knee does in your rehab program. This may take longer if you have both knees done at the same time.

How can you care for yourself after partial knee replacement?


  • Rest when you feel tired. You may take a nap, but do not stay in bed all day. When you sit, use a chair with arms. You can use the arms to help you stand up.
  • Work with your physical therapist to find the best way to exercise. What you can do as your knee heals will depend on whether your new knee is cemented or uncemented. You may not be able to do certain things for a while if your new knee is uncemented.
  • After your knee has healed enough, you can do more strenuous activities with caution.
    • You can golf, but you may want to use a golf cart for some time. And don't wear shoes with spikes.
    • You can bike on a flat road or on a stationary bike. Talk to your doctor before biking uphill.
    • Your doctor may suggest that you stay away from activities that put stress on your knee. These include tennis, badminton, contact sports like football, jumping (such as in basketball), jogging, and running.
    • Avoid activities where you might fall.
  • Don't sit for more than 1 hour at a time. Get up and walk around for a while before you sit again. If you must sit for a long time, prop up your leg with a chair or footstool. This will help you avoid swelling.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again. It may take several weeks after knee replacement surgery before it is safe for you to drive.
  • When you get into a car, sit on the edge of the seat. Then pull in your legs, and turn to face the front.
  • You will probably need to take 4 to 12 weeks off from work. When you can go back to work depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.
  • Do not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds and do not lift weights for 12 weeks.


  • By the time you leave the hospital, you should be eating your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt. Your doctor may suggest that you take iron and vitamin supplements.
  • Continue to drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • Eat healthy foods, and watch your portion sizes. Try to stay at your ideal weight. Too much weight puts more stress on your new knee.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. Drinking enough fluids, taking a stool softener, and eating foods that are good sources of fiber can help you avoid constipation. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, talk to your doctor.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Plan to take your pain medicine 30 minutes before exercises. It is easier to prevent pain before it starts than to stop it after it has started.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your cut (incision), follow your doctor's instructions. You will have a dressing over the cut. A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • If you have strips of tape on the cut the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
    • If you have stitches or staples, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
    • If you have skin glue on the cut, leave it on until it falls off. Skin glue is also called skin adhesive or liquid stitches.
    • Change the bandage every day.
    • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it oozes fluid or rubs against clothing.
    • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Pat the incision dry. Don't swim or take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.


  • Your rehab program will give you a number of exercises to do to help you get back your knee's range of motion and strength. Always do them as your therapist tells you.

Ice and elevation

  • For pain and swelling, put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. If your doctor recommended cold therapy using a portable machine, follow the instructions that came with the machine.

Other instructions

  • Wear compression stockings if your doctor told you to. These may help to prevent blood clots. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to keep wearing the compression stockings.
  • You have metal pieces in your knee. These may set off some airport metal detectors. Carry a medical alert card that says you have an artificial joint, just in case.

How do you prepare for partial knee replacement surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

After partial knee replacement: Overview

Your doctor made a cut in your knee and fixed the damaged part of the knee.

When you leave the hospital, you should be able to walk with a cane, crutches, or a walker. But you will need someone to help you at home until you have more energy and can move around better.

You will go home with a bandage and stitches, staples, skin glue, or tape strips. Change the bandage as your doctor tells you to. If you have stitches or staples, your doctor will remove them about 2 weeks after your surgery. Glue or tape strips will fall off on their own over time. You may still have some mild pain, and the area may be swollen for weeks after surgery.

Your knee will continue to improve for 6 months or longer. You may be able to walk without a cane or walker after 1 or 2 weeks.

You will need to do months of physical rehabilitation (rehab) after a knee replacement. Rehab will help you strengthen the muscles of the knee and help you regain movement. After you recover, you may be able to do normal daily activities with less pain or no pain at all. You may be able to hike, dance, and ride a bike. Talk to your doctor about whether you can do more strenuous activities. Always tell your caregivers that you've had a partial knee replacement.

How long it will take to walk on your own, return to normal activities, and go back to work depends on your health and how well your rehab program goes. The better you do with your rehab exercises, the sooner you will get your strength and movement back.

What happens on the day of your partial knee replacement?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • You may also get a shot of medicine into your spine. This will make your legs numb. You will not feel pain during the surgery.
  • You also will get antibiotics through an I.V. tube before surgery. This lowers the risk of an infection of the incision.
  • The surgery will take about 2 to 3 hours.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.