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

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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

Comments (8)

  1. Andre says:

    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.

  2. Kate says:

    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.

  3. Cheryl says:

    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”.

  4. Dave says:

    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.

  5. Melissa says:

    Ive had 4 surgeries on my right big toe. Last 1 took out my titanium implant & inserted plastic. Ive got severe heavy metal allergies, very rare. Im now looking for a doctor in pittsburgh to do my hip replacement & cant find one. Any advice or thoughts, i would travel if needed.

    1. Jeff Yoders says:

      Hey Melissa,

      First off, good luck in your search. There are options for those with metal allergies. We’ve also covered some innovative uses of non-metallic prosthetics such as polycarbon. We hope that you can find the best solution for you.


      Jeff Yoders,

  6. patrick Fitzgerald says:

    Me so scared, I had total hip replacement 2013, developed foot drop. I couldn’t return to work, bartender by trade. Now I find out I have an infection from prosthetic device which was probably brewing inside me since the beginning, I never had follow up doctor work because of insurance issue, now I wait for Social Security Disability to help, but that’s timely procedure. I hope the infection doesn’t find its way to the blood stream? when I had this done I was 48 hoping to be a new man, now I am 53, sad and depressed. Mine was Makoplasty robotic THR if this information helps anyone. I recommend the robot not to be used!

  7. Carole Jupp says:

    I had 2 hip operations with titanium prothesis inserted in 1992 at the age of 49 and still have good use of both hips with only slight discomfort now and then. Played Golf for 20 years after op and still play Bowls even though I have Osteoarthritis in all of my joints.

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