Alternative materials to improve total hip replacement tribology

Seppo Santavirta, Max Böhler, William H Harris, Yrjö T Konttinen, Reijo Lappalainen, Orhun Muratoglu, Claude Rieker, Martin Salzer
Acta Orthopaedica Scandinavica 2003, 74 (4): 380-8
An improvement in tribology of bearing surfaces is an effective means of increasing the longevity of total hip replacement (THR). Currently, 3 approaches are available to achieve this aim: first, use of highly cross-linked UHMWPE; second, aluminum oxide ceramic bearings, and third, metal-on-metal bearings. Cross-linking reduces the wear resistance of UHMWPE markedly without impairment of other significant properties of the material. Simulator studies and some clinical long-term (10-22 years) follow-up surveys suggest an almost immeasurable wear of the highly cross-linked UHMWPE-based acetabular components during an expected clinical life span. Bioinert alumina ceramic (aluminum oxide) was introduced 3 decades ago for THR-bearing surfaces to improve performance and longevity. Alumina ceramic is entirely biostable and bioinert and has good mechanical properties. For correctly positioned alumina-on-alumina bearings, the annual linear wear rate has been reported to be 3.9 microm. Alumina heads have been successfully used in combination with polyethylene sockets, but as regards wear, the best results have been obtained with alumina-on-alumina bearings. In ceramic THR bearings, precise manufacture and contact surface geometry, including optimal clearance, are most important. For the currently available products, the component fracture risk is almost nonexistent (less than 1 per 1000). Metal-on-metal bearings were used in the early stage of THR surgery, although not all old designs were successful. More recent analyses of the early series have shown the advantages of metal-on-metal to be better and have led to a renaissance of this articulation. Initially, stainless steel was used because it was easy to manufacture and polish. Current metal-on-metal bearings are based on cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloys with varying carbon contents. Such bearings are self-polishing. Linear wear rates remain at the level of a few microm a year. An improvement in technology has increased the life span of the above three THR-bearing systems. Although the technical solutions differ considerably, they all seem to improve clearly the tribology and longevity of the THR. Each of these bearing concepts will probably permit the use of larger head sizes, to reduce the risk of impingement and luxations.

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