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J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1992 Jan;74(1):9-17.

Polyethylene wear of metal-backed tibial components in total and unicompartmental knee prostheses.

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  • 1Anderson Orthopaedic Research Institute, Arlington, Virginia 22206.


We examined 86 polyethylene inserts, retrieved from total and unicompartmental knee prostheses after an average of 39.5 months in situ, grading them from 0 to 3 for seven modes of polyethylene degradation. Severe wear, with delamination or deformation, was observed in 51% of the implants, and was associated with time in situ, lack of congruency, thin polyethylene, third-body wear debris, and heat-pressed polyethylene. Significant under-surface cold flow was identified in some areas of unsupported polyethylene, and was associated with delamination in the load-bearing areas of thin inserts above screw holes in the underlying metal tray. We recommend the use of thicker polyethylene inserts, particularly in young, active patients and in designs with screw holes in the tibial baseplate. Thin polyethylene inserts which are at risk for accelerated wear and premature failure should be monitored radiographically at annual intervals.

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