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Despite design improvements, wear of artificial implants remains a serious health issue particularly for Metal-on-Metal (MoM) hips where the formation of metallic wear debris has been linked to adverse tissue response. Clearly it is important to understand the fundamental lubrication mechanisms which control the wear process. It is usually assumed that MoM hips operate in the ElastoHydrodynamic Lubrication (EHL) regime where film formation is governed by the bulk fluid viscosity; however there is little experimental evidence of this. The current paper critically examines synovial fluid lubrication mechanisms and the effect of synovial fluid chemistry. Two composition parameters were chosen; protein content and pH, both of which are known to change in diseased or post-operative synovial fluid. Film thickness and wear tests were carried out for a series of model synovial fluid solutions. Two distinct film formation mechanisms were identified; an adsorbed surface film and a high-viscosity gel. The entrainment of this gel controls film formation particularly at low speeds. However wear of the femoral head still occurs and this is thought to be due primarily to a tribo-corrosion mechanisms. The implications of this new lubrication mechanism and the effect of different synovial fluid chemistries are examined. One important conclusion is that patient synovial fluid chemistry plays an important role in determining implant wear and the likelihood of failure.
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