To prolong the life of total joint replacements, highly crosslinked ultra-high molecular weight polyethylenes (UHMWPEs) have been introduced to improve the wear resistance of the articulating surfaces. However, there are concerns regarding the loss of ductility and potential loss in fatigue crack propagation (FCP) resistance. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of gamma radiation-induced crosslinking with two different post-irradiation thermal treatments on the FCP resistance of UHMWPE. Two highly crosslinked and one virgin UHMWPE treatment groups (ram-extruded, orthopedic grade, GUR 1050) were examined. For the two highly crosslinked treatment groups, UHMWPE rods were exposed to 100 kGy and then underwent post-irradiation thermal processing either above the melt temperature or below the melt temperature (2 h-150 degrees C, 110 degrees C). Compact tension specimens were cyclically loaded to failure and the fatigue crack growth rate, da/dN, vs. cyclic stress intensity factor, DeltaK, behavior was determined and compared between groups. Scanning electron microscopy was used to examine fracture surface characteristics. Crosslinking was found to decrease the ability of UHMWPE to resist crack inception and propagation under cyclic loading. The findings also suggested that annealing as a post-irradiation treatment may be somewhat less detrimental to FCP resistance of UHMWPE than remelting. Scanning electron microscopy examination of the fracture surfaces demonstrated that the virgin treatment group failed in a more ductile manner than the two highly crosslinked treatment groups.

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