The role of microcracking in cortical bone as a toughening mechanism has been investigated in conjunction with the variation in fracture toughness with crack length. Fracture toughness tests were conducted on miniaturised compact tension specimens made from human and bovine cortical bone and the resultant microstructural damage, present in the form of microcracking on the surface, was analysed around the main propagating crack. It was found that the fracture toughness (K<sub>c</sub>) and the cumulative number of microcracks increased linearly with crack extension in human and bovine cortical bone, although both K<sub>c</sub> and number of microcracks were considerably higher in the latter case.
Based on these results, a mechanism, derived from the resistance (R) curve concept developed for microcracking brittle solids, is proposed to explain the fracture of cortical bone, with microcracking distributed between a frontal process zone and a significant process zone wake. Evidence to support this mechanism is given from the existing bone literature, detailed scanning electron microscopical observations and the distribution of microcracks in the process zone wake.