Zirconia and alumina ceramics in comparison with stainless-steel heads


P. Hernigou, T. Bahrami


Although alumina has been used in orthopaedic surgery since the 1970s, the long-term clinical results of zirconia have not been well documented in vivo. We studied hips with these two different ceramics during the same period and with a minimum follow-up of ten years. Because the size of the alumina and zirconia heads was different, hips with 32 mm alumina heads and those with 28 mm zirconia heads were compared with control hips with stainless-steel heads of the same size. Our aim was to compare the two ceramics.

There was an increased linear rate of penetration of the femoral heads into the liner between years five and 12 for the zirconia and the stainless-steel groups. This was severe in the zirconia group (0.4 mm/year compared with 0.13 mm/year for the stainless-steel group). During the same 12-year period there was, however, no significant change in the rate of wear in the alumina group (0.07 mm/year). The mean wear at the most recent follow-up was 1360 mm3 for the 28 mm zirconia group, 683 mm3 for the 28 mm stainless-steel group, 755 mm3 for the 32 mm alumina group and 1314 mm3 for the 32 mm stainless-steel group. The monoclinic content rose on the surface of three zirconia heads which were retrieved at revision. This change was associated with an increase in the surface roughness. A change in the roundness with an increase in the sphericity deviation was also observed both in the articular and non-articular parts of the femoral heads. The increase in rate of wear in the zirconia group was only evident after eight years and may be linked to a long-term biodegradation of zirconia in vivo, associated with the altered roughness and roundness which was observed on the retrieved heads.

  • Received April 2, 2002.
  • Accepted January 28, 2003.