Alternative bearing surfaces in total hip arthroplasty: zirconia-alumina pairing. Contribution or caveat?

Published online: Jun 27 2002

Pitto RP, Blanquaert D, Hohmann D.

University of Auckland, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Middlemore Hospital, Private Bag 93 311, Otahuhu, Auckland 6, New Zealand.


The aim of the present study was to evaluate the zirconia and alumina articulation in total hip arthroplasty in regard to clinical and radiological outcome. This is the first report concerning the clinical application of a hybrid ceramic articulation. Owing to ethical reasons, a limited number of patients was enrolled in the study. Ten consecutive patients with degenerative arthritis were randomly allocated after informed consent to hybrid total hip arthroplasty treatment using an alumina femoral head and an alumina acetabular liner (5 hips), or using a zirconia femoral head and an alumina acetabular liner (5 hips). The median age of patients at index operation was 57.8 years. Current criteria were used for clinical and radiological assessment. The mean follow-up was 5.1 years (5 to 5.3 years). No hip required revision, and no clinical and radiological differences were observed between the two groups of hips. The median preoperative Harris hip score was rated 55.3 points in the control group of hips with alumina head, and 55.6 in the group of hips with zirconia head. The median Harris hip score increased to 94.9 points at the time of follow-up in the control group, and 96 points in the zirconia group. No radiological signs of cup loosening or focal acetabular osteolysis were detected at follow-up. All stems showed stable fixation without radiolucent lines or focal osteolysis. Zirconia femoral heads and alumina acetabular liners have been successfully used in the present series of 5 total hip arthroplasties with a mean follow-up of 5.1 years. Nevertheless, the use of femoral heads made of zirconia in total hip arthroplasties remains an important clinical concern due to the potential genesis of wear microparticles which can lead to progressive osteolysis. Further in-vitro and in-vivo investigations are required to define the value of this alternative bearing surface.