Background: Modular polyethylene inserts have enabled surgeons to perform an isolated tibial insert exchange while retaining well fixed components. The purpose of this study was to review the results of insert revision and to clarify the role of this option compared with that of revision total knee arthroplasty.
Methods: Fifty-six patients (sixty-three knees) were managed with revision of a tibial polyethylene insert and retention of well aligned and stable femoral and tibial components. The implants had been in situ for an average of fifty-nine months (range, two to 108 months) at the time of the insert exchange. The inserts that were removed at the time of exchange were evaluated with regard to wear of the articular surface according to the classification system of Hood et al. and with regard to undersurface wear according to the method described by Wasielewski et al. Forty-eight knees were followed for an average of 7.4 years (range, 3.0 to 12.2 years) after the insert exchange. Knees that did not require an additional operation were considered to have had a successful exchange.
Results: Seven of the forty-eight exchanges failed, at an average of fifty-four months, because of accelerated wear of the new insert. All seven knees required complete revision of all components. Of the twenty-two exchanges that were performed because of severe wear of the primary insert, six (27 percent) failed at an average of less than five years; thus, knees in which the exchange was performed because of advanced wear were more likely to fail again (p < 0.05). In addition, primary inserts that were removed from knees in which the exchange procedure subsequently failed had higher delamination scores than those that were removed from knees in which the exchange was successful (p < 0.05). Most of the primary inserts had substantial undersurface wear at the time of the exchange procedure. Metallosis (thirty knees) and osteolysis (nineteen knees) were unrelated to failure of the exchange.
Conclusions: An isolated revision of the tibial polyethylene insert should not be performed when there is accelerated wear of the insert with severe delamination and grade-3 or 4 undersurface wear within ten years after the primary procedure. Because a variety of patient-related, implant-related, and technical factors influence polyethylene wear, the orthopaedist must consider multiple variables whenever contemplating a limited revision.