Bearing surface wear in total joint replacements arises from local stresses that exceed the mechanical strength of the articulating materials. Because both the tensile/compressive principal stresses and maximum shear stress near the bearing surface increase when contact stresses increase, minimizing contact stresses has been a central design goal, especially in total knees. Wear rates increase with factors such as increased sliding distance in metal-on-polyethylene bearings, or suboptimal fluid film lubrication in the case of hard-on-hard total hip implants. These factors in turn depend directly on implant design. Advanced preclinical assessment technologies such as laboratory physical simulators and finite element analyses have provided means by which the dependence of wear rate on mechanical design factors can be quantified. However, untoward complexities occurring in vivo, such as impingement or third-body challenge, can appreciably compromise wear performance even for implants that are well-designed in terms of bearing surface stress minimization.

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