Could silver be the solution to joint replacement infections?

joint replacement infection

Many people suffer from pain in their joints, which can be caused by a variety of reasons including genetic composition, lifestyle choices and the career choice. There are many people who undergo total hip or knee replacement surgery in the UK every year, as it is one of the most common ways of treating those who are in serious pain or who are suffering from restricted mobility, but the current materials don’t always suit everyone.

Artificial hip or knee joints can be crafted from a number of materials, ranging from ceramic materials to metal alloys and hard-wearing plastics. Their materials have been chosen after extensive testing of their suitability as a replacement joint, and how people tend to react to the materials when they have been inserted into their body as a replacement for the original joint. While most people react well to these materials, there are still isolated cases where people react to the materials or to the operation more generally and can develop complications after surgery.

Joint replacement infection is rare – “there are 80,000 knee replacements a year in the UK and around 1 per cent become infected”– but for those who do suffer an infection following this type of surgery, it can be serious – and in very extreme cases could even lead to amputation of the infected limb. This is extremely rare, however, with “around 2 per cent of those with an infected joint face amputation” however, it is enough to mean that research is still being undertaken to try and reduce this risk even further. As such, scientists are continuing to test different materials, to ensure that all suitable options are being utilised and the best possible patient care can be delivered.

Precious metal – not just purely decorative

One of the lesser known (by the general public) components in the world of orthopaedic surgery is the use of artificial joints that are coated with silver. Silver is well known for its anti-bacterial properties – i.e. if patients are suffering with repeated infections in the area where they have had a joint replaced, then a silver-coated joint is likely to give them the best possible chance of not developing a joint replacment infection.

Orthopaedic Product News reports “there is growing evidence that the traditional use of antibiotics to treat infection is becoming less effective due to an increase in antimicrobial resistance. The use of silver in medical implants has been demonstrated to be successful in fighting infection and may offer solutions for controlling infection cases in patients with [total knee or hip replacements].”

It is widely agreed that there is good evidence to suggest that in complex situations involving chronic joint replacement infection, silver is a useful adjunct and does probably improve chances of infection eradication.

The important thing to ensure is that these problems are managed in a multi-disciplinary team environment, with input from surgeons, microbiologists etc. If the problem can be spotted and treated quickly, it reduces the risk that it will become serious. If it does though, it is reassuring to know that there are solutions available to help treat infection and implant components that can be used that mitigate against the possibility of infection recurring.