Thermomechanical behavior of virgin and highly crosslinked ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene used in total joint replacements
Three series of uniaxial tension and compression tests were conducted on two conventional and two highly crosslinked ultra-high molecular weight polyethylenes (UHMWPEs) all prepared from the same lot of medical grade GUR 1050. The conventional materials were unirradiated (control) and gamma irradiated in nitrogen with a dose of 30 kGy. The highly crosslinked UHMWPEs were gamma irradiated at room temperature with 100 kGy and then thermally processed by either annealing below the melt transition at 110°C or by remelting above the melt transition at 150°C. The true stress–strain behavior of the four UHMWPE materials was characterized as a function of strain rate (between 0.02 and 0.10 s−1) and test temperature (20–60°C). Although annealing and remelting of UHMWPE are primarily considered as methods of improving oxidation resistance, thermal processing was found to significantly impact the crystallinity, and hence the mechanical behavior, of the highly crosslinked UHMWPE. The crystallinity and radiation dose were key predictors of the uniaxial yielding, plastic flow, and failure properties of conventional and highly crosslinked UHMWPEs. The thermomechanical behavior of UHMWPE was accurately predicted using an Arrhenius model, and the associated activation energies for thermal softening were related to the crystallinity of the polymers. The conventional and highly crosslinked UHMWPEs exhibited low strain rate dependence in power law relationships, comparable to metals. In light of the unifying trends observed in the true stress–strain curves of the four materials investigated in this study, both crosslinking (governed by the gamma radiation dose) and crystallinity (governed by the thermal processing) were found to be useful predictors of the mechanical behavior of UHMWPE for a wide range of test temperatures and rates. The data collected in this study will be used to develop constitutive models based on the physics of polymer systems for predicting the thermomechanical behavior of conventional and crosslinked UHMWPE used in total joint replacements.
Journal: Biomaterials - Volume 23, Issue 17, September 2002, Pages 3681–3697