Application of cyclic loading results in the formation of distinct strain-dependent microdamage morphologies. It is still unknown; however, how the morphology of microdamage affects age-related increase in bone fragility. In this study, four-point bending fatigue tests were conducted on aging human bone (age 26 to 89) in conjunction with histological evaluation of the resultant tensile (diffuse damage) and compressive (linear microcracks) damage to identify the damage morphologies associated with an increase in age-related bone fragility. The results demonstrate that young donors (38 ± 9 years) had a longer fatigue life (P < 0.05) and formed more diffuse damage than the older donors (82 ± 5 years) (P < 0.05). In contrast, old donors had a shorter fatigue life and formed more linear microcracks than the younger donors (P < 0.05). Linear microcracks were longer in older than in younger donors (P < 0.05) and were associated with weak lamellar interfaces. Areas of diffuse damage were, however, larger in younger than in older donors (P < 0.05), and these showed no relationship with the lamellar arrangement of bone. These findings show, for the first time, that the propensity of bone to form a particular damage morphology is subject to change with age and that the propensity of young donors to form diffuse damage over interlamellae linear microcracks plays a critical role in the ability of bone to dissipate energy and resist a catastrophic fracture. Age-related changes in damage morphology may therefore be an important contributor to the increased bone fragility in the elderly.
Keywords: Aging; Microcracks; Diffuse damage; Bending fatigue; Cortical bone