Journal of the mechanical behavior of biomedical materials

Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene: mechanics, morphology, and clinical behavior.

PMID 19627849


Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) is a semicrystalline polymer that has been used for over four decades as a bearing surface in total joint replacements. The mechanical properties and wear properties of UHMWPE are of interest with respect to the in vivo performance of UHMWPE joint replacement components. The mechanical properties of the polymer are dependent on both its crystalline and amorphous phases. Altering either phase (i.e., changing overall crystallinity, crystalline morphology, or crosslinking the amorphous phase) can affect the mechanical behavior of the material. There is also evidence that the morphology of UHMWPE, and, hence, its mechanical properties evolve with loading. UHMWPE has also been shown to be susceptible to oxidative degradation following gamma radiation sterilization with subsequent loss of mechanical properties. Contemporary UHMWPE sterilization methods have been developed to reduce or eliminate oxidative degradation. Also, crosslinking of UHMWPE has been pursued to improve the wear resistance of UHMWPE joint components. The 1st generation of highly crosslinked UHMWPEs have resulted in clinically reduced wear; however, the mechanical properties of these materials, such as ductility and fracture toughness, are reduced when compared with the virgin material. Therefore, a 2nd generation of highly crosslinked UHMWPEs are being introduced to preserve the wear resistance of the 1st generation while also seeking to provide oxidative stability and improved mechanical properties.