Observations that dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) measures of areal bone mineral density cannot completely explain fracture incidence after anti-resorptive treatment have led to renewed interest in bone quality. Bone quality is a vague term but generally refers to the effects of skeletal factors that contribute to bone strength but are not accounted for by measures of bone mass. Because a clinical fracture is ultimately a mechanical event, it follows then that any clinically relevant modification of bone quality must change bone biomechanical performance relative to bone mass. In this perspective, we discuss a framework for assessing the clinically relevant effects of bone quality based on two general concepts: (1) the biomechanical effects of bone quality can be quantified from analysis of the relationship between bone mechanical performance and bone density; and (2) because of its hierarchical nature, biomechanical testing of bone at different physical scales (<1 mm, 1 mm, 1 cm, etc.) can be used to isolate the scale at which the most clinically relevant changes in bone quality occur. As an example, we review data regarding the relationship between the strength and density in excised specimens of trabecular bone and highlight the fact that it is not yet clear how this relationship changes during aging, osteoporosis development, and anti-resorptive treatment. Further study of new and existing data using this framework should provide insight into the role of bone quality in osteoporotic fracture risk.
Keywords: Bone quality; Biomechanics; Osteoporosis; Treatments; Aging