As you'd expect, orthopedic implants are very "high tech." Their designs can be quite complex, and the materials used to make them, called biomaterials, are highly developed. Examples of biomaterials include titanium, cobalt-chrome, polyethylene, and Trabecular Metal™ material.
There are many different biomaterials, but there's no single biomaterial that is best for all implants and all patients. The specific requirements of an implant material vary depending on how the implant was designed to be used.
Usually for hip replacements, the outer shell of the new socket is made of metal. The inner shell, or liner, can be made of ceramic, metal, or a plastic called polyethylene. When a metal or ceramic ball is joined with the socket, the new hip can produce smooth, nearly frictionless movement. The stem, which fits into the thighbone, is commonly made of titanium.
Trabecular Metal material is not a coating, like the surface of many hip replacements. Rather, it is an advanced, three-dimensional material that closely resembles your body’s natural cancellous bone. Trabecular Metal Technology, made of Tantalum metal, has a high level of friction to provide immediate stability for the hip joint. It also has a high level of porosity.
Zimmer complies with strict regulations and testing before a new material may be used in an orthopedic implant. The materials most commonly used have a long history of clinical use with great success.
Like medicine, biomaterials can produce side effects. Some side effects seen with biomaterials include microscopic debris, increased ion levels in the blood or urine, or inflammation. These are rare, but you should be aware of the possibility. For these reasons, your doctor will evaluate you individually and carefully consider the material that is used to manufacture your implant, along with its design.
This information on biomaterials is intended to answer some of the most common questions about the biomaterials used in orthopedic implants, but it cannot tell you what material is best for your implant. Only your doctor can tell you that. If you have more questions for your surgeon about the biomaterials in your implant, be sure to ask during your visits.