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Identifying Risk Factors That Could Lead to Corrosion and Wear of Spinal Implants

  • Category: Back Surgery
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: DR. HAMID ABBASI

Research into spinal implant failure suggests that corrosion and wear could result from a multitude of different factors. When it comes to implants, there are a number of risk factors and variables that overlap to cause problems for certain patients. By understanding what causes corrosion and wear in spinal components, doctors are better equipped to prevent the problems that result from the mechanical and chemical breakdown of metal in the body and patients can more easily identify when they’re experiencing a problem that needs to be dealt with immediately.

The type and complexity of the spinal surgery to be performed on a particular patient can have an impact on the wear and tear of spinal implants. “Wear” is defined as a mechanical breakdown of the implants while “corrosion” is an electro-chemical process that results in the degradation of metal. The type and degree of force applied to a particular implant that’s been placed along the spine inside the body is one important risk factor that bears consideration. Doctors should pay special attention to patients with implants that are likely to experience a lot of force. They should be monitored regularly post-operatively for metallosis and spine instrumentation failure.

spinal implant

Patient reactions to corrosion and wear of spine implants vary in terms of when they occur and the issues they cause, which can make it difficult for doctors to monitor properly. Patients should pay attention to symptoms of metallosis. For example, some patients may experience unusual and immediate post-operative pain, while others may develop neurological complications years later. All case studies of spine implant metallosis showed that there was a spine metalloma (a swelling that contains fragments of metal) present to indicate that wear and corrosion had reached a critical point. Doctors who regularly test at-risk patients with spinal implants for the development of a metalloma can identify corrosion and wear issues as soon as they become apparent.

By monitoring some at-risk patients for the development of a spine metalloma, doctors can prevent complications from spinal implant wear and corrosion. Patients may experience non-specific or unexplained pain and neurological effects. The spinal implant may loosen or fail completely. Or, in some cases, patients may see swelling or metal staining of the skin. Blood tests may be helpful in some cases, but are often inaccurate.

Increased corrosion and wear of spine implants can be caused or exacerbated by implant, surgeon, or patient factors. For example, spinal fusion may slow down the corrosion of implants to some degree according to researchers because less movement around the implant means less mechanical wear. The amount of movement at the implant junction sites is an important variable in corrosion and wear, particularly if the implant is made up of more than one type of dissimilar material. And should the implant become corroded or deeply worn, patients vary considerably in terms of their sensitivity to implant materials. Doctors need to test patients and look for signs of a metalloma indicating that corrosion and wear have compromised the spine implant.

example of corrosion on a hip implant

Example of Corrosion on a Hip Implant