Symposium: Retrieval Studies

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®

, Volume 470, Issue 7, pp 1814-1825

Surface Damage Versus Tibial Polyethylene Insert Conformity: A Retrieval Study

  • Markus A. WimmerAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center
  • , Michel P. LaurentAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center
  • , Jeannie D. HamanAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center
  • , Joshua J. JacobsAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center Email author 
  • , Jorge O. GalanteAffiliated withDepartment of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center

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Surface damage of the tibial polyethylene insert in TKA is thought to diminish with increasing conformity, based on computed lower contact stresses. Added constraint from higher conformity may, however, result in greater forces in vivo.


We therefore determined whether increased conformity was associated with increased surface pitting, delamination, creep, and polishing in a group of retrieved tibial inserts.


We compared 38 inserts with a dished articular surface (conforming group) with 31 inserts that were unconstrained and nonconforming in the sagittal plane (less conforming group). The two groups had identical polyethylene composition and processing history. The articulating surfaces were scored for pitting, delamination, deformation/creep, and polishing. Evidence of edge loading and the presence of embedded bone cement were also recorded.


The conforming inserts were associated with higher delamination and pitting scores but lower polishing scores, even after adjusting for the effects of sex, age, insert thickness, and implantation duration. Long implantation duration and male sex were also associated with increased delamination, pitting, and polishing, whereas long shelf life was associated only with increased delamination. The conforming group also had approximately a fourfold greater prevalence of edge loading and approximately a threefold greater prevalence of embedded bone cement. The latter was associated with higher scores and proportions of delamination and pitting.


These findings suggest more conformity may increase surface fatigue damage in TKA. Higher constraint-induced stresses during secondary motions and more possibility for edge loading and bone cement capture on a dished surface may account for these results.

Clinical Relevance

The selection of materials with high fatigue resistance may be particularly important for high-conformity/constraint tibial inserts. In addition, awareness of the benefits and trade-offs with conformity may allow better matching of TKA design to patient.