In October 2017, JBJS published results from a 10-year randomized controlled trial by Devane et al. documenting the dramatic reduction in polyethylene wear in total hip arthroplasties (THAs) using highly cross-linked polyethylene (HXLPE). This followed decades of research documenting that wear debris was implicated in macrophage activity that was ultimately responsible for implant loosening. In the September 4, 2019 issue of The Journal, Hart and colleagues produce further evidence of the improved performance of HXLPE, this time showing revision rates among THA patients with osteonecrosis that rival the rates among patients with osteoarthritis.
In this matched cohort of 922 THAs performed from 1999 to 2007 that used an HXLPE bearing, the 15-year cumulative rate of revision was 6.6% among patients treated for osteonecrosis and 4.5% among patients treated for osteoarthritis (p = 0.09). There were no radiographic signs of component loosening in the entire cohort, and, despite a lower median preoperative Harris hip score (HHS) among patients with osteonecrosis, both groups had marked improvements in HHS score. These findings are especially noteworthy because patients with osteonecrosis typically undergo THA at an earlier age and have much higher functional demands than the typical 70- or 80-year-old osteoarthritis patient.
However, the 15-year revision rate—even with HXLPE—remains at 4.5% for osteoarthritis patients, which should provide impetus to continue our work identifying all possible factors and mechanisms that lead to THA revision. A partial list would include bearing-surface wear, reliability of implantation, biomechanics, biomaterials, and patient perception of postoperative pain. Also, in a subgroup analysis, Hart et al. found that the 15-year rate of any reoperation among osteonecrosis patients ranged from 0% for hips with radiation-induced osteonecrosis to 25% for hips with idiopathic osteonecrosis. These findings add to the list of factors for THA success that need further investigation.
The work list for improvements in THA will remain substantive for at least the next few decades, and we may never get to 0% revisions for all patients. But we have certainly demonstrated that our research can produce very worthwhile results.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD