The Journal of Arthroplasty, Volume 34, Issue 12, 3094 - 3098

Zirconia Phase Transformation in Zirconia-Toughened Alumina Ceramic Femoral Heads: An Implant Retrieval Analysis

Nguyen, Thu M. et al.


Zirconia-toughened alumina ceramic was introduced as a femoral head material for total hip arthroplasty. The material combines the stability of alumina with the toughness of zirconia. Despite inherent benefits for bearing surfaces, concern exists in the medical field that phase transformation of the zirconia grains could worsen wear resistance and lower the strength of the head. We examined these concerns in retrieved and artificially aged ceramic heads.


Twenty-eight ceramic composite heads retrieved at revision surgery were combined with 5 pristine heads (as negative controls for phase transformation) and 5 artificially aged pristine heads (as positive controls). The extent of zirconia phase transformation at the bearing surfaces was examined through confocal Raman spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. Burst testing was conducted on all pristine and aged heads and the 4 retrieved implants with the longest lengths of implantation.


Retrieved heads had higher maximum average volume fractions of the monoclinic phase compared to pristine or aged heads. Length of implantation was not correlated to the volume fraction of the monoclinic phase. All the heads achieved a burst load far above the 46 kN Food and Drug Administration acceptance criterion; 3 of the 4 retrieved heads had burst strengths exceeding 100kN.


Our results showed that phase transformation occurs in vivo in ceramic composite femoral heads, but the amount transformed did not increase with the length of time the head had been implanted. The negligible effect upon burst strength of the retrieved and artificially aged heads is reassuring. These results support continued clinical use of this alumina-zirconia composite material as a head material.

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