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Surg Technol Int. 2010 Oct;20:303-8.

Metal-on-metal bearings: the problem is edge-loading wear.

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Stryker Orthopaedics, Mahwah, NJ, USA.


Metal-on-metal bearings are promoted as a low wear bearing alternative to traditional hip replacement bearings. While most in vitro studies support this, recent clinical reviews have found a significant number of early revisions in some designs of metal-on-metal bearings related to wear. Metal-on-metal bearings exhibit a bi-phasic wear pattern with high initial wear that generally settles down to low steady state wear. Previous publications from the authors have found that steady state wear occurs due to the formation of a critical conforming contact area. This contact area was found to be surprisingly constant regardless of bearing size, clearance, or even contact mode. The authors hypothesized that steady state wear may never be reached if formation of this critical conforming contact area is disrupted. Several hip simulator tests were performed to assess the wear performance of generic metal-on-metal samples at various angles of inclination. Three-dimensional modeling was performed on the generic bearing design as well as typical resurfacing and hemispherical bearing designs including various sizes and clearance ranges. Simulator results support the hypotheses, and wear rates were linear or accelerating when the critical contact area size could not be achieved due to its proximity to the rim of the bearing. Modeling studies show a correlation between bearing size and design and the maximum inclination angle allowed to reach steady state conditions. Smaller bearing size and shallower cup designs were found to reduce the maximum safe inclination angle and this corresponds to clinical observation of increased failure rates in these bearings. This simple method for assessing runaway wear risk can be utilized in the design of more robust and forgiving metal-on-metal bearings.

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