A quantitative assessment of bone tissue stresses and strains is essential for the understanding of failure mechanisms associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, loosening of implants and cell-mediated adaptive bone-remodeling processes. According to Wolff’s trajectorial hypothesis, the trabecular architecture is such that minimal tissue stresses are paired with minimal weight. This paradigm at least suggests that, normally, stresses and strains should be distributed rather evenly over the trabecular architecture. Although bone stresses at the apparent level were determined with finite element analysis (FEA), by assuming it to be continuous, there is no data available on trabecular tissue stresses or strains of bones in situ under physiological loading conditions. The objectives of this project were to supply reasonable estimates of these quantities for the canine femur, to compare trabecular-tissue to apparent stresses, and to test Wolff’s hypothesis in a quantitative sense. For that purpose, the newly developed method of large-scale micro-FEA was applied in conjunction with micro-CT structural measurements.
A three-dimensional high-resolution computer reconstruction of a proximal canine femur was made using a micro-CT scanner. This was converted to a large-scale FE-model with 7.6 million elements, adequately refined to represent individual trabeculae. Using a special-purpose FE-solver, analyses were conducted for three different orthogonal hip-joint loading cases, one of which represented the stance-phase of walking. By superimposing the results, the tissue stress and strain distributions could also be calculated for other force directions. Further analyses of results were concentrated on a trabecular volume of interest (VOI) located in the center of the head.
For the stance phase of walking an average tissue principal strain in the VOI of 279 strain was found, with a standard deviation of 212 μstrain. The standard deviation depended not only on the hip-force magnitude, but also on its direction. In more than 95% of the tissue volume the principal stresses and strains were in a range from zero to three times the averages, for all hip-force directions. This indicates that no single load creates even stress or strain distributions in the trabecular architecture. Nevertheless, excessive values occurred at few locations only, and the maximum tissue stress was approximately half the value reported for the tissue fatigue strength. These results thus indicate that trabecular bone tissue has a safety factor of approximately two for hip-joint loads that occur during normal activities.