Vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis commonly occur under non-traumatic loading conditions. This problem affects more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men over a lifetime. Measurement of bone mineral density (BMD) has traditionally been used as a method for diagnosis of vertebral osteoporosis. However, this method does not fully account for the influence of changes in the trabecular bone quality, such as micro-architecture, tissue properties and levels of microdamage, on the strength of the vertebra. Studies have shown that deterioration of the vertebral trabecular architecture results in a more anisotropic structure which has a greater susceptibility to fracture. Transverse trabeculae are preferentially thinned and perforated while the remaining vertical trabeculae maintain their thickness. Such a structure is likely to be more susceptible to buckling under normal compression loads and has a decreased ability to withstand unusual or off-axis loads. Changes in tissue material mechanical properties and levels of microdamage due to osteoporosis may also compromise the fracture resistance of vertebral trabecular bone. New diagnostic techniques are required which will account for the influence of these changes in bone quality. This paper reviews the influence of the trabecular architecture, tissue properties and microdamage on fracture risk for vertebral osteoporosis. The morphological characteristics of normal and osteoporotic architectures are compared and their potential influence on the strength of the vertebra is examined. The limitations of current diagnostic methods for osteoporosis are identified and areas for future research are outlined.
Keywords: Cancellous bone; Remodelling; Trabecular architecture; Microdamage; Finite element modelling