Radiation cross-linking increases the wear resistance of polyethylene used in total hip replacement. Radiation also generates residual free radicals, which are detrimental to long-term properties of polyethylene. Two approaches are used to stabilize the residual free radicals and terminally sterilize the components. One is postirradiation annealing with gas sterilization and the other is postirradiation melting with gamma sterilization in nitrogen. The hypothesis of the current study is that postirradiation annealing followed by gamma sterilization in nitrogen will result in more free radicals in polyethylene than gamma sterilization either in air or in nitrogen alone. To test this hypothesis, concentration of residual free radicals was quantified in polyethylene that was annealed and gamma sterilized in nitrogen and control polyethylenes gamma sterilized in air versus in nitrogen. Three cross-linked polyethylenes that were melted and gas sterilized also were included in the study. The effects of residual free radicals were studied by accelerated aging. Oxidation levels and weight loss in bidirectional pin-on-disk tests were determined before and after aging. Polyethylene that was subjected to postirradiation annealing and gamma sterilization resulted in 58% more residual free radicals than control polyethylenes. Weight loss of the annealed polyethylene increased by 16-fold on accelerated aging and had three times higher oxidation levels than that measured in control polyethylenes after aging. In contrast, polyethylenes that were stabilized with postirradiation melting and terminally gas sterilized showed no detectable residual free radicals. Accelerated aging did not affect the weight loss and oxidation levels of melted polyethylenes.
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