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Orthopedic Services
Glendale Adventist Medical Center
1509 Wilson Terrace
Glendale, CA 91206
Ph: (818) 409-8000

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My grandchildren call me the "Bionic gamma." That's their term for their old gramma with metal in so many places I set off all alarms at the airport security counter. Most recently, I fell and broke my hand. The surgeon used stainless steel plates to hold the bone pieces together. Some of my other "parts" are made of titanium. Is there much difference?

Materials used to make metal implants include titanium, a titanium-metal mixture called titanium allow, and stainless steel. Titanium and titanium alloys are lighter, and more flexible than stainless steel. It "flexes" more with the bone, which has some elasticity to it. Titanium doesn't interfere with MRI signals. And the body accepts it more readily than other implant material. These features of titanium seem to help bone formation (called the callus) needed to heal fractures. There are fewer cases of nonunion reported when titanium is used over stainless steel. The only downside of titanium implants mentioned is the increased rate of implant breakage compared to stainless steel. There seems to be a greater tendency for the titanium implants to break when the surgeon tries to remove the hardware (after fracture healing is complete). Both titanium and stainless steel can leave tiny pieces of debris and set off a tissue reaction inside the finger. Some people are allergic to nickel used in the stainless steel plates. Opposite to the titanium screws, stainless steel screws are easier to remove when the plate is taken out. There's less risk of the screws breaking during the removal process. Studies comparing patient outcomes using titanium versus stainless steel implants for hand fractures have not been done. So each surgeon chooses metal implants carefully on a patient-by-patient basis. Factors such as type of bone fracture pattern, bone density, and patient age and general health are considered when choosing the best implant.


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