Total hip arthroplasty made its debut about 60 years ago. As with most new technologies, it was anticipated that advances and improvements would occur. However, the improvements have been incremental and in some cases have led to problems, particularly with regard to interchangeable parts, modularity, and the materials used for articulating surfaces. Some still believe that total hip arthroplasty was close to being optimized at the time that it was introduced.
Some may view these comments as somewhat provocative, but I would not be surprised if a lot of surgeons agree. The issue of trunnion wear is one example of these problems. One of the main contributing factors is the fact that each implant manufacturer uses tapers with their own specifications, which vary in terms of angle, diameter, straightness, roundness, and surface properties. Therefore, most femoral neck implant tapers are not necessarily compatible with each other. It is important to note that femoral heads should not be used interchangeably between designs as the cone angle may differ. ?If this is done, trunnionosis will be a likely outcome.
In the August 2016 issue of JBJS Reviews, Lanting et al. provide an important and very worthwhile discussion of the risk factors for trunnionosis. Trunnionosis may be enabled by the disruption of the protective oxidative layer on the metal by fretting, potentiating the corrosion of the exposed metal beneath the oxidative layer through an active combination of biochemical and electrochemical processes. Time in vivo consistently has been shown to be a risk factor for trunnionosis. Flexural rigidity of the trunnion has been demonstrated to have an important role in the development of trunnionosis. A flexible trunnion may allow fretting as well as point loading. Edge loading is known to make tribocorrosion more likely to occur. In the presence of any degree of angular mismatch, the effect of trunnionosis may be increased.
The role of design and manufacturing variables in the development of trunnion problems continues to be debated. Surgeon-related factors, especially the greater variability and taper assembly with smaller-incision surgery, also may contribute to this phenomenon. Patients presenting with unexplained pain who have modular neck-body implants should be considered to have an adverse local tissue reaction resulting from corrosion of the neck-stem interface as potential cause of the pain.
In most cases, I suspect that removal of the femoral head, cleaning of the taper, and replacement with a different femoral head (usually a ceramic head with a titanium adapter sleeve) represents adequate treatment based on care recommendations. In contrast, in cases involving adverse local tissue reactions associated with the modular neck designs, removal of the modular stem and neck may be required.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD
Editor, JBJS Reviews