The use of metal plates and screws to stabilize bones is a standard procedure for orthopedic surgeons today, but it has not always been the case. In the past, physicians were limited to using splits and braces on the exterior of the body to help support fractured and diseased bones. Research on using metal plates in the 1800s, and the design and material used for surgical plates and screws continue to be improved today.
Setting bones damaged by fractures and disease goes back to ancient times, but the use of metal inserted within the body to strengthen bone structures become possible after the 1870 discovery of antiseptic technique by Joseph Lister and the invention of x-rays in 1895. By 1883, surgeon W.A. Lane had developed a system of metal screws and plates for internal fixation of bones. In 1886, Dr. H. Hansmann of Germany became the first surgeon to use these metal plates inserted within the body. Early plates and screws were made of vanadium steel but this material proved to be incompatible with body tissues. By 1926, developers switched to newly-invented stainless with its excellent corrosion-resistant properties, according to Zimmer.com.
Advances in Surgical Metals
In 1930, Dr. Lorenz Bohler popularized bone fixation devices known as the Steinman pin and the Kirschner nail, and in 1936, a cobalt alloy was introduced for orthopedic surgery that remained popular for many years. It was in the 1950s that a titanium alloy was developed for implant appliances, though stainless was still widely used. By the 1970s, however, problems with corrosion were being seen in those with the stainless devices
Today's Surgical Plates and Screws
Today, most surgical plates and screws are made of titanium alloy, a material that offers corrosion resistance to body fluids and provides a high degree of strength to support healing bones in the face, back, foot, shoulder and other areas. These screws, however, often have to be removed at a later time. Other implants devices have been refined leading to knee replacement surgery, hip replacement surgery and shoulder replacements surgery.
Problems with Today's Surgical Materials
Though today’s titanium materials have been used successfully worldwide for many years, there is controversy within the medical community about reactions to the metal placed within the body during surgery. Some patients develop skin reactions and wound infections, necessitating pre-surgery testing for metal sensitivity.
Innovations in Surgical Materials
Researchers are continually developing new materials for use in interior fixation for orthopedic surgery. The development of biomaterials that are not only compatible with tissues of the body and can reabsorb or dissolve when the bone has healed in just the latest invention. One of the types of materials is a screw made of polyactic acid and hydroxylapatite that promotes the growth of bone within the implant, according to ScienceDaily.