Background: Standard radiographic assessment of penetration by the femoral head into a polyethylene liner does not enable clinicians to distinguish between the two processes that cause movement of the head: true wear (the removal of polyethylene particles) and so-called bedding-in (other factors, such as creep and settling-in of the liner). By analyzing radiographs made over time, researchers can distinguish true wear from the bedding-in process. The purpose of the current study was to compare the wear performance of the initial modular acetabular cup design (so-called first-generation components) of three different manufacturers with that of a so-called second-generation component made by one of the manufacturers. Methods: A two-dimensional computerized radiographic method was used to analyze 1300 radiographs of 315 hips that were followed for 3.0 to 10.5 years. Temporal penetration by the head in the three groups of first-generation cups was compared with penetration in the group of second-generation cups. Multiple linear regression analysis was used to model penetration-versus-time data as a line for each group. The slope of each regression line indicated the true rate of wear, and the intercept of the regression line indicated the amount of bedding-in. Results: Modifications in the design of the second-generation components, including thicker polyethylene and an improved locking mechanism, led to a decrease in the mean penetration by the head; however, the second-generation component did not have a lower true rate of wear than two of the first-generation components. Rather, the decreased penetration by the head into the second-generation component resulted from decreased bedding-in of the liner. Conclusions: These findings and this technique of analysis are clinically relevant to surgeons who evaluate polyethylene wear radiographically. First, penetration by the head in the early postoperative years might not be due entirely to abrasive wear of the polyethylene liner but, rather, to a change in the position of the head resulting from the bedding-in process. The inclusion of bedding-in in calculations of wear artificially inflates the rate of wear and may result in a misrepresentation of the potential risk of wear-related complications. This is especially true with regard to comparisons of different designs of modular cups, in which conformity and tolerances between the polyethylene liner and the metal shell can vary greatly. Second, analysis of penetration by the head at multiple time-intervals can be used to distinguish true polyethylene wear from the bedding-in process. Such an analysis allows more accurate determination of the true rates of wear of different designs of modular cups and, therefore, of potential wear-related complications.
†Anderson Orthopaedic Research Institute, P.O. Box 7088, Alexandria, Virginia 22307.