Highly Cross-Linked Poly Adds No Benefit to Most TKAs

The preponderance of published orthopaedic evidence supports the use of highly cross-linked polyethylene (HXLPE) in acetabular components for patients undergoing total hip arthroplasty (THA). (See related OrthoBuzz post.) But the literature is filled with conflicting findings about the benefits of HXLPE for those undergoing total knee arthroplasty (TKA). Seeking clarity, in the January 15, 2020 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Partridge et al. report findings from a registry-based cohort analysis of more than a half-million TKAs, comparing revision rates among those using conventional polyethylene (CPE) with those using HXLPE.

The authors analyzed TKA data captured by the National Joint Registry for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland during the period from 2003 to 2014. Of the >550,000 procedures examined, only about 10% utilized HXLPE. When the authors compared adjusted aseptic revision rates per 100 years observed within the three most common TKA systems in the database (NexGen by Zimmer, PFC Sigma by DePuy, and Triathlon by Stryker), they found no significant differences between HXLPE and CPE after a maximum follow-up of 12 years.

The only notable difference between the two polyethylene types was found in patients <60 years old and/or those with BMI >35 kg/m2, in whom the second-generation Stryker X3 HXLPE showed significantly better survival than its CPE counterpart. In explaining why the benefits of HXLPE seen in THA might not translate to TKA, Partridge et al. contrast the “ball and socket” hip joint with the wear mechanisms in TKA, which involve “rolling, sliding, and rotational motion that potentially put the polyethylene insert at greater risk of wear by delamination, pitting, and fatigue failure.”

The authors conclude that the extra costs of HXLPE bearings for TKA may not be justified for most TKA patients in the intermediate term, but commentator Remy Simon Nizard, MD notes that “other uncontrolled or insufficiently controlled parameters [such as quality of component positioning] may have had an influence on the results.”  While Partridge et al. call for “additional follow-up,” Dr. Nizard questions whether full-blown clinical trials investigating alternative bearings in TKA are justified, “given the emerging subject of the burden of research waste.”

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