Most standard methods to predict bone quality are merely based on apparent density measurements. However, apparent density alone does neither explain all variation of the mechanical properties nor does it account for the structural anisotropy of trabecular bone. Thus, apparent density alone might not be sufficient to accurately predict the quality of bone. This study investigates if a new approach based on microstructural computer models can provide additional and relevant information on bone quality.
58 human trabecular bone samples from the femoral head were measured with a 3-D micro-Computed Tomography (micro-CT) system providing a voxel representation of the bone microarchitecture with a resolution of 28 microns. Based on such representations, the orthotropic stiffness matrices and the principal directions were computed for 5 mm cubes with microstructural finite Element Analysis (FEA). For a subset of six samples the moduli were then validated with tri-axial mechanical compression tests. The results show that on average 15% of the variation of the elastic properties are not explained by bone volume fraction. Differences of elastic properties between samples with the same bone volume fraction range up to 53%. The variation of the degree of anisotropy is unrelated to that of the bone volume fraction. finally, the direction-dependent stiffness of the trabecular bone differs by a factor of four, indicating that one single (isotropic) modulus as predicted from apparent density measurements might not be adequat. It is concluded that micro-CT-based FEA provides new and additional information about anisotropy and mechanical properties in a direct and non-destructive way, and thus will be important in the future for advanced failure risk prediction. An extension to patient examinations using high-resolution CT or MRI techniques is envisaged.