It is difficult to assess from conventional x-rays the amount of loading that a bone can tolerate. The question therefore was asked whether the mechanical properties of cortical bone could be estimated by using a computed tomography (CT) system typically employed in the clinical setting. In vitro cross sectional diaphyseal scans of adult human tibiae were made using a GE 9800 scanner and linear attenuation coefficients determined in several regions of the central cross sections. Samples from the mid-diaphyses of these tibiae were harvested, tested in three-point bending to failure, and mechanical properties as well as density and ash fraction determined. The respective relationships between CT measurements, mechanical properties and physical properties were calculated using regression analysis. In addition a solid calibration phantom (tricalciumphosphate) was scanned to evaluate the variability of CT measurements. The physical parameters measured in this study were found to be comparable with data from other authors but correlations coefficients with CT data: r = 0.55 (Young's modulus), r = 0.50 (strength), r = 0.65 (apparent density) and r = 0.46 (ash fraction). The correlation coefficients of these regressions for both linear and power fits were not significantly different. A high linear correlation (r = 0.99) was found between the chamber densities and the measured attenuation coefficients, but accuracy varied between 2 and 6%. The small range of specimen mechanical properties as well as the limitations inherent with the methods employed may explain these results. We conclude that clinical equipment as used in this study is not sufficient to accurately estimate the mechanical properties of cortical bone.
Keywords: Cortical bone; Mechanical properties; Density; Computed tomography; Biomechanic