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Implants for the human body place heavy demands on the material used. For a long time, the materials favored for the purpose were the metals titanium and cobalt-chromium. But now high-performance plastics are gaining ground.
When neither back exercises, nor massage, nor drugs could help her anymore, Wilma Wirbel decided reluctantly to speak to her orthopedist about a surgical solution. For a long time she had been suffering from a slipped disk in the neck region, which considerably restricted her movement and caused severe pain. Now a millimetersized piece of plastic sits between two of her cervical vertebrae. Plastic you say? "For a long time, metal implants were the number one choice, but the high-performance plastic polyetheretherketone (VESTAKEEP PEEK) has now become a serious competitor," says Marc Knebel, Evonik expert for medical applications of plastics. Implants must, after all, be well tolerated and last a lifetime, which is why titanium and cobalt-chromium have so far been the materials of choice. But newly developed plastics also offer these properties—and other advantages besides. It has not really been possible so far to perform surgery with the aid of computer tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, or to monitor the healing process and check the result. "Metals, because of their density, are opaque to x-rays. This gets in the way of a complete and reliable analysis of the image. High-performance plastics, on the other hand, are x-ray transparent and therefore invisible, allowing good monitoring of bone growth and the healing process," explains Knebel.
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