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Understanding the Difference Between Partial and Full Hip Replacement

Understanding the Difference Between Partial and Full Hip Replacement

There can come a time when a major joint becomes more of a liability than an asset, making replacement a very good option. So effective is this approach that 790,000 knee replacement procedures are performed each year in the United States and 450,000 hip replacements.

Our team of orthopaedic surgeons at Western Orthopaedics is on board with these efforts and we offer complete joint replacement services, including hips, which are handled by our in-house hip specialist, Dr. Brian White.

When it comes to these large joints, there are two ways we can breathe new life into damaged hips — full or partial hip replacement. Let's take a look at the difference.

Hip anatomy recap

To understand the difference between a total and a partial hip replacement, it’s critical to understand the anatomy of these large joints.

Your hip is where two bones meet — your femur (thighbone) and your pelvis — in what we call a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is formed by the head of your femur (femoral head), while the socket (acetabulum) is located in your pelvis bone.

The soft tissues that hold this joint together include the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments.

If the articular cartilage that covers the femoral head and socket breaks down inside the joint, this tissue doesn’t readily regrow. As a result, the bones can rub together, causing pain, inflammation, and stiffness. These symptoms are only exacerbated by bone wear and loose fragments of hard and soft tissues inside the joint.

In the end, you’re unable to move around as you once did, and you want to get back to that more active self.

Partial versus full hip replacement

When Dr. White performs a full hip replacement, he replaces both the ball and socket with an artificial stem, ball, and cup. The stem refers to the upper part of your femur that leads to the ball. The cup, of course, fits inside the socket in your pelvis. Together, these pieces provide the joint with better gliding surfaces, giving you the ability to move without pain.

Of course, before he installs these replacement parts, he removes any bone fragments, diseased bone, and broken-down cartilage, essentially cleaning out the joint.

This full replacement approach is generally indicated when the cartilage between the ball and socket is worn all the way down and the surfaces of the bones inside the joint are also damaged. (For a full explanation of the total hip replacement procedure, click here.)

If your socket and labrum appear to be OK and most of the problem stems from your femoral head, Dr. White can perform a partial replacement in which he only implants a new stem and head, leaving your socket untouched.

A partial replacement is a viable option if you have an isolated issue in your hip, such as a fracture in your femur, but it may not be a good idea for progressive conditions like arthritis. If we know that the arthritis is going to continue to affect your hip, replacing the entire joint might make more sense.

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and the best way to figure out which approach would be best to relieve your hip problems is to sit down with Dr. White for a consultation. To get started, please contact one of our offices in Arvada or Denver, Colorado, to set up an appointment.

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