Partial vs. Total Hip Replacement Surgery

Categories: Hip Replacement Surgery,News

Some patients in need of a hip replacement will ask me if they are candidates for a partial rather than a total hip replacement because it sounds “less invasive.” Unlike the knee (which has three distinct compartments and when one wears out there’s a good chance that only that compartment needs to be replaced), the hip is a single ball (femoral head) and joint socket (acetabulum) and a partial hip replacement often isn’t the optimum choice.

A partial hip replacement (hemiarthroplasty) is the replacement of only the patient’s femoral head. The new prosthetic femoral head (metal ball) then rotates inside the natural body socket. However, the artificial metal ball is placed directly next the body’s natural hyaline cartilage and unfortunately, this cartilage doesn’t do well or remain healthy when compressed against a metal surface.

A total hip involves the replacement of the femoral head and the resurfacing of the socket. With this procedure, the prosthetic femoral head moves within the prosthetic socket.

Each procedure has advantages and disadvantages but as a rule, the best results for longevity and consistent pain relief are attained with a total hip replacement.

Fracturing or breaking a hip refers to a break occurring through the upper femur (thigh bone), which often displaces the femoral head. If the fracture occurs within the hip joint capsule, we refer to this as a “femoral neck fracture.” An “intertrochanteric” fracture is when the fracture occurs just outside of the hip joint capsule. Because the upper femur bone – located just below the hip capsule – is surrounded by muscle, it has a much better blood supply and therefore, these types of fractures usually heal when they are realigned and the alignment is held in that position with plates, screws or a rod. This is called an internal fixation. On the other hand, the femoral neck within the hip joint capsule is bathed in synovial fluid and has a precarious blood supply.  Because of this, fractures through the neck region often don’t heal. If a fracture occurs though the neck and the neck fragments displace, the blood supply usually is compromised and then even if internally fixed, leads to a fracture that either doesn’t heal or heals but subsequently the head collapses because of lost blood supply.

Historically, femoral neck fractures left patients crippled or even caused death due to lack of mobility and all its associated complications. During the 1960s, the one-piece partial hip replacement was introduced. The Austin Moore and Thompson are classic examples of these revolutionary prosthetics. For the first time, physicians could replace a broken femoral head with an artificial one. The stem, which was inserted down through the upper femur bone, was constructed from the same piece of metal as the ball (monoblock). This was a dramatic move forward, saving countless lives and greatly improving mobility and quality of life for many. Although a quantum leap in hip replacement surgery, most patients still had a less than a perfect result, experiencing pain either from the stem not being stable within the femur or the new ball wearing away the natural cartilage.

Today, many people who fracture their femoral necks still are treated with partial hip replacements. Now, almost all prosthetics have a modular head that fits on the stem.  A further refinement to the partial hip is the “bipolar” hip replacement. Imagine a standard sized ball, often used in total hip replacement, first being impacted on the new stem and then a bigger ball inserted over the smaller ball and placed inside the natural socket. It’s referred to as bipolar because it can move in two planes: between the little ball and the big ball and between the big ball and the natural socket, as opposed to the original “monopolar” ball. Some studies suggest that the body’s natural cartilage within the acetabulum is worn away more quickly and there is less relief from pain when a monopolar rather than a bipolar ball is implanted. The main reasons that monopolars still are used today are because they usually are less expensive and some surgeons prefer them because of their simplicity and lack of modularity.

Usually the only patients still considered good candidates for a partial hip replacement are those who do not have underlying arthritis and have healthy acetabular cartilage. This is often the case for someone who has fractured the femoral neck but did not have hip symptoms or hip arthritis prior. One of the main advantages for performing a partial hip rather than a total hip replacement is that partial hips are inherently more stable. Because the balls are larger they are less prone to dislocation. The Bipolar also is thought to be slightly more stable or resistant to dislocation than the monopolar due to its increased range of motion. Another advantage is that significantly less surgery is required to replace only the ball of femur and not the socket as well. Less skill is required when only preforming a partial hip and less surgical dissection is needed which often results in less blood loss.

The main disadvantage in performing a partial hip replacement is that the final results are not as consistently perfect. Without question, the gold standard is the total hip replacement. More and more recent studies are showing better results with total versus partial, even among the “fracture” population.

As a result, I seldom perform partial hip replacements. Yet, even for me, there are a small number of patients for whom this is the best course of action, for example, an elderly patient who prior to a fracture had no hip arthritis. I recently was asked to help an older gentleman who had fallen and fractured his femoral neck. I was told that he had fallen multiple times over the past year and ultimately sustained a fracture. This, unfortunately, is a common story: multiple falls before a fracture finally occurs, particularly in some elderly patients. This patient also had severe Parkinson’s disease and had developed some cognitive demise. Although he was living independently with his spouse, he required the use of a walker even around the house and was not very active. For this patient, a partial hip replacement (bipolar) was most appropriate, because he was not very active, had a high probability of future falls and performing less surgery to fix the fracture was safer for him. Also, he did not have hip disease or any arthritic symptoms prior to fracturing his hip. Fortunately, he did very well and after a short stay in the hospital was again able to go home with his wife and resume his prior level of independence.

Another much less common indication to use a bipolar hip replacement is when a patient already has had a total hip, but is suffering recurring dislocations. In some cases, I add a bipolar cap over the ball and then place the large ball into the patient’s fixed cup. This creates a “tripolar” construct and has helped me to solve some very difficult instability problems for patients.

Because of the specialty nature of my practice, I occasionally see patients who already have been reconstructed with a partial hip replacement but are still in pain and not doing well. I convert their partial hip to a total hip by implanting a new socket and changing the ball if the stem is satisfactory. These surgeries tend to be very successful.

For patients who are active and have higher lifestyle demands (want to play golf, tennis, walk for exercise, ride a bike, etc.) I perform total hip replacements, even for a fracture without prior disease. The results are consistently more perfect. It’s a fact that the vast majority of patients who come to me with hip problems have degenerative osteoarthritis. Their femoral head and socket have cartilage loss and degeneration, so a partial hip simply is inappropriate.

The key to successful joint replacement surgery is having the right surgeon with enough experience to choose the best prosthesis and procedure for you.  An orthopedic surgeon who is highly experienced in hip replacement surgery brings valuable expertise and typically has built an experienced team ready to assist. Your surgeon also should know from personal experience with and repeated use of any prostheses, which are optimal, safe, long lasting and provide the best results.

During my more than 20-year career, I have helped thousands of people from around the world.  At The Leone Center for Orthopedic Care, we offer both the latest and most time-tested innovations in joint replacement.

7 Responses to "Partial vs. Total Hip Replacement Surgery"

  1. Alvin Drelich Posted on April 22, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    I was diagnosed with a labral tear in addition with osteoarthritis. Partial or full hip replacement male 87 yrs.I was told the cartlidge is not in condition to be sewn or debridged.

    Is their an alternative to surgery?

  2. holycrossleonecenter Posted on April 28, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Hello Mr. Drelich,

    If your symptoms are disabling enough and you are not getting adequate relief and function with conservative treatment methods, then almost certainly having a total hip rather than a partial hip replacement or an arthroscopy would give you the very best chance of having the most-desired result. I would strongly discourage having a hip arthroscopy that would be directed at treating the labral tear. Most likely, the labral tear is secondary to the underlying hip arthritis. Frequently, hip arthritis will worsen after an arthroscopy. A partial hip replacement will only replace the arthritic head and not address the worn-out cartilage on the acetabular side or the torn labrum. I wish you the very best in you quest to feel better and stay active.

    Dr. William Leone

  3. brian Posted on June 16, 2015 at 12:07 am

    What is the best most proven hip (THR) set up? Meaning components? I was reading articles that a large head size are better? I want to remain active and play tennis, but decided against a hip resurfacing. Now, I am set on a THR anterior approach in the Seattle area, but searching Google, I just read about lawsuits with all the major manufacturers of hip gear-so frustrating to find what is best?
    Brian :)

    • holycrossleonecenter Posted on June 25, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Hello Brian,

      The most important decision you must make is choosing your surgeon. I then would trust your doctor to select the prosthetic that would deliver the best result according to your goals and allow you to return to activities that you enjoy. That being said, I agree completely with your surgeon’s advice to have a total hip replacement and not a hip resurfacing. There aren’t any activities that you can do with a resurfaced hip that you can’t do with a total hip. I would avoid the metal-on-metal articulation. We now have too many other proven bearing surfaces available. I don’t think there is “one best prosthetic.” Some have features that are more suited to one person’s anatomy and needs than others. Again, trust your doctor. The highly crossed linked polyethylene liners are now the gold standard in this country. Many also mate this with a ceramic femoral head. A ceramic-on-ceramic bearing is also a very good bearing.
      I have linked back below to several blog posts that will give you more in-depth information.

      I wish you the very best recovery.
      Dr. William Leone

  4. Larren Hagen Posted on August 26, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    My wife fell and broke her hip Sep. 2012. At the hospital, no one discussed partial or total hip replacement options; they just said they needed to replace her hip with an implant. My wife was in good health and active, then, but no one asked about that. They installed a partial, telling me it was best because she had a “healthy natural socket;” I wasn’t knowledgeable, and it was already a done deal. She has had “groin pain” for many months now, and has been particularly acute since May; she has been coping with ice gel packs constantly applied… Our first orthopedist, in July, stated the solution was to replace her partial [xray indicates monopolar] implant with a full implant, but was very concerned that such major surgery was an extreme risk for infection or stroke [she has some adrenal insufficiency, now]. A 2nd opinion orthopedist has also stated the only solution is a total replacement, and he recommends that she go to a much larger medical center in Charlotte, NC and see a Dr. William Griffin, MD. We are planning to see said doctor, but aren’t sure how to know the doctor’s bona fides, nor how to ask about cross-linked polyethlene, etc… We know we don’t want metal-to-metal; a relative had such for less than a year and had to have it replaced with metal-to-cross/poly. Can you make any recommendation on a revision… posterior vs anterior, et cetra… I really appreciate the article leading this blog… Thanks, in advance.

    • holycrossleonecenter Posted on September 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      Dear Mr. Hagen,

      The description of your wife’s condition and symptoms does suggest that she will benefit from more surgery. Very probably, conversion of her partial hip to a total hip will really help her. Infection has to be considered and an attempt should be made to try and rule that out prior to any additional surgery. Also, you both need to understand what will be required if infection is the reason she did so poorly after her first surgery, and then what will be necessary to treat the infection at her next surgery.

      When you meet with her new surgeon, share with him your concerns. This is your opportunity to discuss the type of implant to be used including the bearing surface. The advantage you have this time is that the surgery is being scheduled electively so you both can go into it more educated and prepared.
      I wish you and your wife the best of luck in solving this distressing problem.

      Dr. William Leone

  5. Scott T Posted on September 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I want to say thanks for this article. It is one of the clearest explanations of partial v. total I have seen. I have a similar story to the person above – I broke the femur neck (along with my elbow) in a bad bike crash. I was a 56 yo runner/triathlete at the time and had no prior hip issues. Needless to say this has changed my life radically. The on-call surgeon told me the break was too bad for pins, that I needed an implant and that a partial replacement would be done. He did say I would likely need revision in a few years. One year later, I can get where I need to go but walking is gimpy and often painful. (Running is out of the question, though I have resumed low-intensity biking and swim laps 3x a week.) My current doctor has suggested a bone scan due to my persistent pain, and I get the feeling he is nudging me toward a THR revision sooner rather than later. I’m conflicted, as I do NOT relish going back through surgery/recovery. But if a THR could really give me many pain-free years and restore more mobility it might be worth it….any advice on key questions or options to ask about would be appreciated. Again, thanks for the article!

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