Electrocautery Damages Metal Hip Implants in 2 Ways

In the setting of revision total hip arthroplasty (THA), the use of electrocautery—and contact between the thermal device and retained components—cannot always be avoided. In the May 15, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Sonntag et al. perform two implant-retrieval analyses and a separate in vitro investigation to determine what kinds of damage take place when electrocautery energy meets titanium femoral stems.

The components for retrieval analyses were removed from patients who experienced a fracture of the femoral stem or femoral neck after revision THA. The authors found superficial discoloration and melting marks on the retrieved components, and elemental analysis indicated that material had been transferred from the electrocautery tip. During in vitro testing of 6 titanium alloy femoral stems, the authors found that electrocautery surface damage reduced load-to-failure by up to 47% when compared to undamaged femoral neck specimens. Microscopic analysis revealed notable changes in metal microstructure in electrocautery-exposed components, whereby certain zones exhibited higher strength than others, which, the authors speculate, might result in lower overall fatigue resistance.

Both the retrieval and in vitro analyses showed that electrocautery damage to femoral implants, particularly in the anterolateral region at the base of the neck, reduced implant fatigue resistance. However, the authors say their results need to “be carefully interpreted,” because they are based on only 2 retrievals and a limited number of test specimens. Nevertheless, they conclude that “electrocautery device contact [with femoral implants] should be avoided and the use of conventional scalpels is recommended, where reasonable.”

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