“Resurfacing” is a word we hear quite a lot these days. Patients who are considering knee replacement surgery sometimes want to know if we offer it here at Chris Bailey Orthopaedics.
“I don’t really want a knee replacement,” they say. “I’d prefer to have it resurfaced. Can you do that for me?”
The simple answer to that question is: yes, we can! But first we might need to unpack what’s meant by the idea of “resurfacing”. Here’s why.
What is a partial knee replacement?
Your knee joints are made up of distinct sections. We call these “compartments”. You have three in each knee:
- The lateral compartment (on the outside)
- The medial compartment (on the inside)
- The patellofemoral compartment (the kneecap area)
How do knee joints actually work? See Joint 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Knee
In a knee with osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage surfaces in the joint begin to break down and wear away (hence the term “wear-and-tear arthritis”). This causes the bone surfaces beneath the cartilage to grind against each other, resulting in swelling, inflammation and, of course, pain. But that osteoarthritic damage may not be spread evenly across your knee. It could be focused in the lateral compartment. Or the medial. Or the patellofemoral. Or perhaps two of those compartments.
In these circumstances, we want to preserve as much of that natural, undamaged cartilage and bone as possible. That’s where partial knee replacement comes in. Instead of removing the entire joint and replacing it with a like-for-like artificial joint (a total knee replacement), a partial aims to replace the damaged area with a smaller implant (or implants if two compartments). Aside from preserving natural bone and tissue, partial replacement is also a smaller operation – which usually means less time in theatre and a swifter recovery.
So how does knee resurfacing work?
Resurfacing a knee joint generally means replacing damaged bone in one or two of the compartments with a new, artificial implant (or implants). Hmm…
If that sounds a lot like the description above, well, that’s because they’re the same thing. Now, there are many different types of implants available for this kind of knee surgery – each with distinct shapes, sizes, fits, materials and so on – and some of them require a smaller “resurfacing” footprint than others. But in essence they all have the same aim: to replace a defective compartment in your knee with a partial implant rather than an entire artificial joint.
So… resurfacing or partial, then?
The short answer is: either. They’re different ways of describing the same operation. But if you are considering this kind of surgery, we need to be clear that we’re all talking about the same thing. In other words…
Partial replacement (AKA resurfacing)… is an operation to introduce a new, artificial surface (or surfaces) to one or two of the compartments in your knee
Total replacement… is an operation that provides a whole new artificial joint within the knee
Of course, this is a topic that prompts a lot more questions, and you can find much more detail on the wider world of knee replacement surgery in our previous posts; for instance:
What it’s like to go through knee replacement surgery – a case study with one of our patients, Ed
We hope you find them useful.
Still confused or unsure about knee replacement surgery? Just drop the team a line and they’ll be really glad to help. You can contact us through the website, email our secretary, or call us on 01962 826107.