What causes metal implants to rupture in the body

Many people know that metal is strong. So when orthopaedic surgeons implant metal to repair broken bones, replace worn joints, or correct deformities in the skeletal system, it’s understandable that people are confident in a problem-free prognosis.

Although metal is elastic, the fact is that metal will break, so some action may be required.

This article explains why metal implants break, and whether surgery is needed to repair them.

Why does metal break?

The strength of a metal implant depends on many factors, including the type of metal, how the metal is made, and the size of the implant. Common types of metals used in surgery include stainless steel and titanium.

As a comparison, consider a paper clip. It usually maintains great strength. It may bend, but usually doesn’t break. However, if the paper clip is bent back and forth a few times, it may snap in half. Metal implants can respond to repeated stress cycles in a similar way.

fatigue leads to rest

Metal implants often break due to fatigue. Fatigue can happen over time. This means that metals typically do not break from sudden loads, but from repeated stress cycles.

Causes of hardware damage

Metal implants are often used to support the skeletal system until the body can withstand normal stress without the aid of the implant. Therefore, if a bone is broken, metal implants can be used to support the healing bone until the bone heals. Several factors may interfere with this process:

  • Unhealed fractures (nonunions): There are many reasons why a fracture may not heal or heal slowly. If a fracture supported by metal does not heal, the support provided by the metal may end up being insufficient.
  • Loose implants: Loose implants experience more stress than firmly fixed implants. This can happen with fracture repair or with loose hardware from a joint replacement implant.
  • Insufficient repair strength: The stress of the fracture requires minimal support while repairing. “Loose” repairs can lead to failure of the metal that supports the bone.
  • Expected Damaged Hardware: Damaged metal may appear in some cases. For example, sometimes ligament injuries are repaired with metal. Because of normal ligament movement, even very subtle movements, the metal used to hold the ligament in place can eventually break.

Find your implant metal

Even if you learned about metals in science class, that was probably a long time ago. The ten toughest metals are: carbon steel, steel-iron-nickel alloys, stainless steel, tungsten, tungsten carbide, titanium, titanium aluminide, Inconel, Chromium and iron.

trouble signs

Hip and knee surgery often involves the use of metal. Five common postoperative problems tend to cause certain symptoms:

  • Fractures, usually after a fall or other trauma
  • Frequent or repeated dislocations, which can cause pain and make movement difficult
  • Infection, which can cause pain, redness, and swelling; severe infection can cause diarrhea, fatigue, fever, muscle aches, or nausea or vomiting
  • Looseness or instability, which can cause pain and swelling, popping or clicking noises, or a feeling of “venting” when you put weight on the body part
  • Metal allergy, which can trigger common allergy symptoms such as itching, pain, rash, skin discoloration, stiffness, and swelling

If you experience any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider, even if you are not sure why. In other words, you may not know you have a metal allergy. But if you’re battling a range of symptoms, you know something’s going on. That’s enough to justify calling your provider.

“Modification” is common

The American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons predicts that from 2030 to 2060, about 10 percent of future hip and total knee replacements will require so-called “revision surgeries.”

Need surgery?

Often, broken metal implants require additional surgery, but not always. If the problem remains unresolved, such as a broken bone that hasn’t healed, the metal may need to be removed and a new repair done. However, if the broken metal isn’t causing the problem, it usually stays in the body.

In rare cases, loose or broken metal can move through the body. This can be worrisome when the metal is around the chest or abdomen, and usually less worrisome when the metal is on the extremities. Keep your healthcare up to date so he can monitor the situation and respond appropriately.


Orthopedic surgeons implant metal to repair broken bones, replace worn joints, or correct deformities of the skeletal system. Although metal implants are designed to last long — sometimes decades — they usually don’t last forever. In fact, implants can fail for many reasons, such as if there was a problem at the beginning of the repair, or if the patient put too much pressure on the area while it was still healing. Five common post-implantation problems tend to trigger certain symptoms. It’s smart to know what they are so you know how to respond.

VigorTip words

Damaged implant hardware is almost always a sign of a problem — both the hardware and the bone that supports it. If you suspect a problem, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your health may depend on a phone call (to your healthcare provider).