Using a surrogate contact pair to evaluate polyethylene wear in prosthetic knee joints

Anthony P. Sanders, Carly A. Lockard, Joel N. Weisenburger, Hani Haider, Bart Raeymaekers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


With recent improvements to the properties of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) used in joint replacements, prosthetic knee and hip longevity may extend beyond two decades. However, it is difficult and costly to replicate such a long in vivo lifetime using clinically relevant in vitro wear testing approaches such as walking gait joint simulators. We advance a wear test intermediate in complexity between pin-on-disk and knee joint simulator tests. The test uses a surrogate contact pair, consisting of a surrogate femoral and tibial specimen that replicate the contact mechanics of any full-scale knee condyle contact pair. The method is implemented in a standard multi-directional pin-on-disk wear test machine, and we demonstrate its application via a two-million-cycle wear test of three different UHMWPE formulations. Further, we demonstrate the use of digital photography and image processing to accurately quantify fatigue damage based on the reduced transmission of light through a damage area in a UHMWPE specimen. The surrogate contact pairs replicate the knee condyle contact areas within -3% to +12%. The gravimetric wear test results reflect the dose of crosslinking radiation applied to the UHMWPE: 35 kGy yielded a wear rate of 7.4 mg/Mcycles, 55 kGy yielded 1.0 mg/Mcycles, and 75 kGy (applied to a 0.1% Vitamin E stabilized UHMWPE) yielded 1.5 mg/Mcycles. A precursor to spalling fatigue is observed and precisely measured in the radiation-sterilized (35 kGy) and aged UHMWPE specimen. The presented techniques can be used to evaluate the high-cycle fatigue performance of arbitrary knee condyle contact pairs under design-specific contact stresses, using existing wear test machines. This makes the techniques more economical and well-suited to standardized comparative testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-140
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part B Applied Biomaterials
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • fatigue
  • knee replacement
  • pin-on-disk
  • standards
  • testing
  • wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering


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