Titanium vs. Ceramic – The Next Big Battle in Health Care? Part One

by Lisa Reisman on September 9, 2011

Style:    Category: Minor Metals, Non-ferrous Metals, Product Developments

Guest contributor Alex Burns studies biology at Cardiff University in the UK.

You’ve heard of Car Wars – now how about Titanium vs. Ceramic?

What did ceramic say to titanium?

Move over. More and more now, ceramic composites are used in hip replacement in favor of titanium. The hip replacement is one of the most successful and widely done operations around the world. 90 percent of patients report pain-free movement, and a wider range of mobility. How is this miracle performed?

Doctors completed the first hip replacement in 1891 with the use of ivory, but they soon moved on to metals. With the invention of Teflon, the wear and tear along with the metal build-up in the bodies of the patients was reduced until modern alloys were introduced. These days, the typical metal femur head replacement consists of a titanium stem attaching to the femur and a cobalt chromium head for hardness. The head is machined to size and then polished to reduce the rubbing on the bone. Not too long ago a plastic spacer of polyethylene was put between the head and the socket to further reduce wear, but it was found the cobalt chromium head lasts longer on its own.

How long does a hip replacement last?

The average hip replacement lasts around 25 years, but with the usage of ceramics this could be lengthened even further. The main cause of a revision hip replacement is wear and tear; the heads grind down over time, causing a build-up of material which is related to loosening of the joint and a return in pain along with a loss of mobility.

Ceramic implants, however, are much smoother and harder than their cobalt chromium counterparts and so wear less. That’s one of the reasons they’re used in high performance brake pads on cars. For younger patients receiving hip replacement, this could be a massive bonus. If they got a metal implant at the age of 45, by the time they were 70 it would need revision surgery at a stage in life where their bodies are far less able to heal and deal with any complications associated with the surgery. With a ceramic head, the implant should hopefully outlast them and so rid them of the necessary operation to change it.

Continued in Part Two.

–Alex Burns

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andre November 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I certainly hope the wear of the ceramic implant far outlasts traditional metal. I had my hip replaced last year at only 46 years of age. I really don’t want to have a revision.

Reply

2 Kate March 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I second that. I had a bilateral hip replacement this year at age 48. Really don’t want to have to relive this experience again.

Reply

3 Cheryl March 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I had the titanium one put in at the age of 23 in 1985. Have had no problems, delivered two babies and worked on my feet for 10 years. It will be 28 years this August and I’m hoping for it to last for a long time. My motto is “use it but don’t abuse it”.

Reply

4 Dave March 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm

I have just had a full hip replacement with ceramic I am 48,I am hoping that I can get many years of normal quality of life. I am still on medication still nervous as regards taking it easy not bending,moving and twisting so any more advice would be welcome.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: