The finite element method (FEM), an advanced computer technique of structural stress analysis developed in engineering mechanics, was introduced to orthopedic biomechanics in 1972 to evaluate stresses in human bones. Since then, this method has been applied with increasing frequency for stress analyses of bones and bone-prosthesis structures, fracture fixation devices and various kinds of tissues other than bone. The aims of these investigations were to assess relationships between load carrying functions and morphology of the tissues, and to optimize designs and fixation techniques of implants.
Although the amounts of significant findings and useful concepts generated by the FEM during the first decade of its application in this field were limited, many publications have served to illustrate its capabilities and limitations. The method is now well established as a tool for basic research and for design analysis in orthopedic biomechanics, and the number of publications in which it is used is increasing rapidly. In the meantime, following developments in engineering mechanics, the capabilities of the method are augmented which, together with an increasing sophistication of computers, guaranties exciting possibilities for the future.
However, the biological structures and the clinical problems concerned are complex. Scientific progress in this area requires a sound understanding of engineering mechanics on the one hand, and a profound appreciation of the complex reality on the other. These features were not always apparent in the FEM work reported during the first ten years.
In the following survey, the developments of FEM applications in orthopedic biomechanics during the first decade are discussed. Special problem areas are indicated and future trends anticipated.