Eight mechanically failed Harrington rods have been retrieved and examined clinically, metallurgically, and biomechanically to characterize the mode of instrument failure and to determine how future failure rates might be minimized. The results of the study indicated fatigue to be the mode of mechanical failure in all cases, however, in only one case was any significant metallurgical defect observed. Failure occurred at the ratchet-shaft junction in seven of eight cases with the remaining failure occurring at the midshaft region. This occurred in the rod with the metallurgical defect. The possibility of fatigue failure can be lowered by implementing both clinical and design considerations. Clinically, stress on the rod can be lowered by placing the ratchet-shaft junction as close to the hook as possible and by using the shortest rod possible. Both of these will minimize the moment arm at the vulnerable ratchet-shaft junction. Design modifications, including increased rod diameter, polishing the ratchet-shaft interface and material changes, can also be used to lower the stress on the rods and thus reduce the risk of mechanical failure.