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New Knee Surgery Can Speed Up Recovery

When doctors perform traditional knee replacement surgery, it's a big operation that takes time to heal. But as The Early Show's medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports, for some patients an easier, less invasive technique can put them back on their feet much faster.

Three years ago Howard Chapman had his left knee partially replaced because of arthritis pain. His doctor used a minimally invasive technique pioneered in England and now used more and more in the United States. He was happy with the results.

"As you can see, I can pick my feet up, I can move it in, out, up, over. Anything you want. Works fine," Chapman explains, showing off his knee.

Now Chapman is back, having his right knee replaced using the same technique. Unlike traditional knee replacement surgery, where the entire joint is replaced, his doctor, Michael Bronson of New York's Mt. Sinai Medical Center, replaces just part of the damaged knee joint.

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Bronson says the procedure is possible when arthritis damage to the joint is not advanced and affects only one side. "That's his right knee. The outside of the right knee you see is very adequate cartilage space. But the inside of the right knee, you see it's almost bone on bone," the doctor explains.

"We now know that about one out of every three patients who have knee arthritis start the process with arthritis only in a portion of the knee rather than the entire knee," Bronson says.

Asked how doctors can tell, Bronson says, "Patients will be very specific that rather than the whole knee hurting they'll point to the inside of the knee and say this is where it hurts."

"It's like a shooting pain in the side of your leg. You know the pain is there. I walk expecting pain," Chapman explains.

But if the surgery goes well, the pain will disappear, as it did in the other knee. From start to finish, the procedure takes less than an hour. And in only two weeks, Chapman walks into Dr. Bronson's office for a checkup.

The result, according to Dr. Bronson?

"His knee looks great," Bronson says. "There's no swelling. You see he has great motion."

If this had been a total knee replacement, Bronson says Chapman's knee would be significantly swollen and he'd have a much bigger incision. Chapman would also need a walker or crutches after the surgery, Bronson says.

Instead, Dr. Bronson says Chapman will be playing golf again within a month. The American College of Orthopedic Surgeons cautions that the hardware used in this procedure, while FDA approved, is still new, so there are no long-term data on the device. Before surgeons can perform the procedure they are required to undergo special training.

But Howard Chapman says his results are excellent and tells Dr. Senay he has already recommended the procedure to a lot of people.

Dr. Bronson says if you have pain in just one side of your knee, you'd be wise to get evaluated quickly. Once arthritis spreads to the center of the knee, under the kneecap, it's too late for a partial replacement. He also says that if you're considering a partial knee replacement, it's critical to find a doctor who has experience performing the procedure.

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