The role of tissue-level post-yield behavior on the apparent-level strength of trabecular bone is a potentially important aspect of bone quality. To gain insight into this issue, we compared the apparent-level strength of trabecular bone for the hypothetical cases of fully brittle versus fully ductile failure behavior of the trabecular tissue. Twenty human cadaver trabecular bone specimens (5 mm cube; BV/TV=6–36%) were scanned with micro-CT to create 3D finite element models (22-micron element size). For each model, apparent-level strength was computed assuming either fully brittle (fracture with no tissue ductility) or fully ductile (yield with no tissue fracture) tissue-level behaviors. We found that the apparent-level ultimate strength for the brittle behavior was only about half the value of the apparent-level 0.2%-offset yield strength for the ductile behavior, and the ratio of these brittle to ductile strengths was almost constant (mean±SD=0.56±0.02; n=20; R²=0.99 between the two measures). As a result of this small variation, although the ratio of brittle to ductile strengths was positively correlated with the bone volume fraction (R²=0.44, p=0.01) and structure model index (SMI, R²=0.58, p<0.01), these effects were small. Mechanistically, the fully ductile behavior resulted in a much higher apparent-level strength because in this case about 16-fold more tissue was required to fail than for the fully brittle behavior; also, there was more tensile- than compressive-mode of failure at the tissue level for the fully brittle behavior. We conclude that, in theory, the apparent-level strength behavior of human trabecular bone can vary appreciably depending on whether the tissue fails in a fully ductile versus fully brittle manner, and this effect is largely constant despite appreciable variations in bone volume fraction and microarchitecture.
Keywords: Finite element analysis; Bone quality; Brittle; Ductile; Microarchitecture