Why knee replacements fail in 2013: patient, surgeon, or implant?

Bone Joint J. 2014 Nov;96-B(11 Supple A):101-4. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.96B11.34350.


Previous studies of failure mechanisms leading to revision total knee replacement (TKR) performed between 1986 and 2000 determined that many failed early, with a disproportionate amount accounted for by infection and implant-associated factors including wear, loosening and instability. Since then, efforts have been made to improve implant performance and instruct surgeons in best practice. Recently our centre participated in a multi-centre evaluation of 844 revision TKRs from 2010 to 2011. The purpose was to report a detailed analysis of failure mechanisms over time and to see if failure modes have changed over the past 10 to 15 years. Aseptic loosening was the predominant mechanism of failure (31.2%), followed by instability (18.7%), infection (16.2%), polyethylene wear (10.0%), arthrofibrosis (6.9%) and malalignment (6.6%). The mean time to failure was 5.9 years (ten days to 31 years), 35.3% of all revisions occurred at less than two years, and 60.2% in the first five years. With improvements in implant and polyethylene manufacture, polyethylene wear is no longer a leading cause of failure. Early mechanisms of failure are primarily technical errors. In addition to improving implant longevity, industry and surgeons must work together to decrease these technical errors. All reports on failure of TKR contain patients with unexplained pain who not infrequently have unmet expectations. Surgeons must work to achieve realistic patient expectations pre-operatively, and therefore, improve patient satisfaction post-operatively.

Keywords: etiology; failure; patient satisfaction; revision; total knee arthroplasty.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Knee Prosthesis*
  • Prosthesis Design
  • Prosthesis Failure / trends*
  • Risk Factors