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7th Congress of the European Federation of National Associations of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Lisbon - 4-7 June, 2005


Traditional polyethylene oxidizes, wears and generates particles over time, which most probably contributes to increased risk of periprosthetic osteolysis. Even contemporary sterilization methods such as radiation and package in oxygen reduced or oxygen substituted environment do not eliminate oxidation over time. Thus, there is a need for alternative bearing in total hip replacement surgery and especially in patients with high activity and long life expectancy.

All three major alternate bearings, ceramic-on-ceramic, metal-on-metal and highly crosslinked polyethylene produce major reductions in volumetric wear. The electron beam, melted highly cross-linked polyethylene has an in vivo penetration rate after the bedding in period, which is less than 8 microns per year. This is not substantially different from ceramic on ceramic or metal on metal. Therefore, the inherent risk of periprosthetic osteolysis with these alternate bearings is probably smaller than observed with conventional polyethylene.

In the competition between different articulations highly cross-linked polyethylene has some advantages. The polyethylene is more adaptable than the hard bearing surfaces. This means that extended lip liners, offset liners, constrained liners and further special designs may be used. These options are not possible with any of the hard bearings. Another advantage with polyethylene is forgiveness. Impingement in hard-on-hard bearings may lead to serious complications such as chipping of the ceramics or metallosis in a metal on metal articulation.

Impingement should also be avoided with use of polyethylene, but if it occurs, the consequences are often more benign at least in the short term perspective. Micro-separation results in less material damage with use of polyethylene than with the 2 other types of articulations. A few degrees of additional abduction above the geometrical limits for a particular socket is far less harmful if it is made of polyethylene compared to the situation in ceramic-on-ceramic or metal-on-metal bearings. Polyethylene is also more familiar to the majority of orthopaedic surgeons. In the operating room the cross-linked polyethylene is identical to those types of polyethylene, which have been used fore 3 to 4 decades. Finally the cost is a major factor (Harris 2004). The hard-on-hard bearings are substantially more expensive. The fracture incidence of ceramics components has decreased with improved manufacturing technology, but the risk of polyethylene fracture appears to be still smaller.

On the other hand using highly cross-link polyethylene carries some risks. Particles generated from this new material are smaller with higher inflammatory response. Compared with joints including conventionally sterilised polyethylene the total particle production is, however, reduced with more than 85%, which has implications for the magnitude of the inflammatory response.

The significance and importance of the irradiation and melting induced changes of the mechanical properties of the polyethylene is not known. Long term follow-up is needed to evaluate this issue.

Charnley preferred small head sizes in total hip replacement because they resulted in transmittance of low frictional torque to the acetabular implant. Mueller advocated larger head sizes with improved joint stability and lower contact pressure. Large heads do, however, imply increased volumetric wear. Therefore, 32 mm heads were abandoned in the early 90ties in favour of 28 mm heads. Another consequence of using larger heads is that polyethylene liners are relatively thin. The highly cross-link polyethylene and the hard bearings can be used with bigger femoral heads, which increases the range of motion and the hip joint stability.

Amorphous diamond coatings has been studied as an alternative bearing surface in the laboratory (Santavirta 2003). Such coatings may provide wear rates 104 to 105 times lower than conventional THR articulations, because of their extremely hard surface and low coefficient of friction without any corrosion paths (Santavirta et al. 1999 Lappalainen et al. 2003).

Oxidized Zirconium (OxZr) is another material, which has similar advantages. Oxinium materials are the results of a process that allows thermally–driven oxygen to diffuse and transform the metallic zirconium alloy surface into a durable low-friction oxide. The Oxinium material is harder than commonly used cobalt chrome, and with only the surface changing during the manufacturing process, the rest of the implant remains metal to maintain its overall strength. OxZr provides superior abrasion resistance without the risk of brittle fracture, thereby combining the benefits of metal and ceramics. Knee simulator tests have shown that OxZr can reduce polyethylene wear substantially (Ries et al. 2002). Although promising, these two coatings still lack clinical documentation.

During the last decade it has become evident that many designs of total hip arthroplasty can in patients with normal bone quality be fixed to the bone with a high degree of reproducibility. This has had the effect that younger patients have been operated on in increasing numbers. Wear and periprosthetic bone loss have remained a serious and comparatively frequent complications. The introduction of more wear resistant articulations has the potential to solve these problems making the procedure safer also among these patients. So far there is no or very scarce evidence that these articulations can be used safely during decades without complications causing progressive and often silent bone destruction resulting in difficult revisions with high morbidity. In the case of metal on metal articulations release and accumulation of ions remains a long term concern and especially if the patients will suffer from a temporary or permanent disease associated with impaired renal function.

Because evidence of long term superiority of these new articulations is lacking it is of utmost importance that these new implants and materials are introduced into clinical practice in a controlled way. Careful surveillance of preclinical and gradually enlarged randomised studies followed by multicenter trials is necessary to avoid disastrous mistakes so common in the past.

Theses abstracts were prepared by Professor Roger Lemaire. Correspondence should be addressed to EFORT Central Office, Freihofstrasse 22, CH-8700 Küsnacht, Switzerland.